Face masks are now mandatory in shops in England - here's what you need to know

A woman wears a face mask while shopping in Selfridges (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)A woman wears a face mask while shopping in Selfridges (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)
A woman wears a face mask while shopping in Selfridges (Photo: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

As of Friday 24 July, it is now mandatory to wear face coverings in shops in England.

A Downing Street spokesman told the BBC earlier in July, "There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus."

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In Scotland, face coverings in shops have been compulsory since 10 July. Police there have said they did not issue a single fine over the first weekend of compulsory coverings.

What's the punishment for not following the rules?

Those who do not comply with the new measures could face fines of up to £100, though this figure will be reduced to £50 if people pay within 14 days.

Unlike on public transport, retail staff will not be expected to enforce the rules - although they will be encouraged to prompt customers to comply - and the new measures will instead be upheld by the police.

There has been a reported increase in the use of face coverings by people across the UK. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said more than half of adults surveyed in the first week of July had been using a covering while outside their home.

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Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?

Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt from wearing face coverings in shops, much like they are on public transport.

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Will the rules apply to shop staff?

The new rule for face coverings in shops does not apply to retail staff.

What counts as a face covering?

When the Government announced similar measures for public transport usage, they were very careful to distinguish between face 'coverings', and face 'masks'.

Medical-grade coverings, such as those worn by hospital staff and other key workers dealing with the virus on the frontline, should be avoided to allow supplies to reach those most in need.

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Face 'covering' is a catch-all term for any item that conceals both the mouth and nose, and is made of cloth or other textiles through which you can breathe.

"Any type of covering will be sufficient for this purpose," said Environment Secretary, George Eustice.

"It is about managing the overall risk."

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You can even create your own face covering at home, using recycled materials such as tea towels, cotton t-shirts and cotton pillowcases. These are the best materials to use due to their ability to capture particles while still remaining breathable.

Where else do I have to wear a face covering?

It remains compulsory to wear a face covering when travelling on public transport in England. This rule came into force on 15 June.

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Downing Street has said it will keep the guidance on face coverings in other settings under review.

What was the reaction to the news?

Labour welcomed the announcement, though the opposition party criticised the Government's "slow and muddled" approach to implementing the new rules.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said, "Many will ask why, yet again, have ministers been slow in making a decision in this pandemic.”

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Unions and businesses have also welcomed the move, but said the new guidance must be "clear and detailed" to protect staff and customers.

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The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said strict hygiene controls and social distancing measures should be the first line of defence in the tackling of coronavirus in shops, and that coverings should not become a substitute for these measures.

Though it is hoped the new rules will make the public feel even more confident about returning to high streets, shoppers themselves aren't so sure.

Andy, in Manchester, told BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast the government's move makes him feel "shopping carries a higher risk" than he thought.