Face coverings mandatory in shops: what you need to know

People will have to wear coverings in shops when it becomes compulsory from July 24. Picture: Andrew

People will have to wear coverings in shops when it becomes compulsory from July 24. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Images - Credit: PA

After weeks of mixed messages, the Government has announced it will soon be mandatory to wear a face covering in supermarkets and other shops in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask. Picture: Ben Stansall/PA Wire

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask. Picture: Ben Stansall/PA Wire - Credit: PA

In a statement on Tuesday, health secretary Matt Hancock will say anyone failing to comply with the order - which comes into force on July 24 - could face a fine of up to £100.

The move follows a weekend of confusion over whether ministers intended to make face coverings compulsory after Boris Johnson said they were looking at “stricter” rules.

Michael Gove said over the weekend that the public could be trusted to use their “common sense” in choosing whether to cover their nose and mouth, but now it seems only the threat of a fine will do.

MORE: Seven places you can buy locally made face masks

Here is what you need to know about the new rules.

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When does the law come into force?

As of July 24, you must have your nose and mouth covered when you go shopping or risk a £100 fine - reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.

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It will be up to police to dish out penalties and not business owners or shop workers, although they are being asked to encourage customers to comply.

The regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984.

What has been the reaction from shops?

The British Retail Consortium welcomed the “clarity” on the use of face coverings.

“The clarity we’re going to get today for implementation in about 10 days’ time is going to give a level of reassurance,” chief executive Helen Dickinson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Clarity is really important to give people that confidence. It is absolutely true that sales and footfall are returning only very slowly to our high streets and town centres and shopping centres up and down the country.”

While shop workers will be asked to encourage compliance, retailers and businesses will not be expected to enforce them.

A customer wearing a face mask at Thetford Garden Centre. Picture: Denise Bradley

A customer wearing a face mask at Thetford Garden Centre. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020

Why are we being told to wear face coverings almost four months after we went into lockdown?

The Government has been reluctant to enforce the wearing of face coverings, and its guidance states they do not protect the wearer but may protect others if people are infected but have not yet developed symptoms.

Some of the Government’s most senior advisers have warned that face coverings can give people a false sense of security and lead to over-reliance on “ineffective homemade masks” rather than thorough hand hygiene.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) says incorrect use of coverings - such as putting them on incorrectly, touching the face more than normal and reusing dirty ones - could increase the spread of infection.

What can I use as a face covering?

Face coverings are not the same as face masks. The Government has said coverings can be made from scarves, bandanas or other fabric items, as long as they cover the mouth and nose.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Picture: PA Imgaes

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Picture: PA Imgaes - Credit: PA Imgaes

Dozens of YouTube tutorials will talk you through fashioning your own, while official advice says face coverings should allow the wearer to breathe comfortably and be tied behind the head to provide a “snug fit”.

What about surgical face masks and visors?

The public have been asked not to use medical-grade personal protective equipment (PPE) masks to ensure these remain available for frontline healthcare workers.

Does everyone have to wear a face covering in public now?

There are a few exceptions to the new rules about face coverings in shops - children under 11 and people with certain disabilities and breathing conditions will be exempt.

It adds to the list of places we have to be covered up which currently includes all public transport as well as all hospital visitors and outpatients in England.

Official guidance says people in England should also wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible.

If I develop Covid-19 symptoms, can I still go out if I wear a mask or covering?

No. People with symptoms and their household should isolate at home.

What has the World Health Organisation said?

The WHO also advises a three-layer face covering in the community - the outer layer should be water resistant, the inner should be water absorbent and the mid layer acts as a filter.

It emphasises that a mask alone cannot protect you from Covid-19, and that it must be combined with social distancing of at least a metre and regular hand washing.

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