Wearing a face covering in shops and supermarkets is to be made mandatory in England in a fresh move to stop the spread of coronavirus, the Government has announced.
In a statement on Tuesday (July 14), 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.
The senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he did not believe they should be mandatory and that it was better to ‘trust people’s common sense’.
However, during a visit to the London Ambulance Service on Monday, the Prime Minister offered the clearest signal he was going down the route of compulsion, saying the Government was looking at the ‘tools of enforcement’.
Ahead of Tuesday’s announcement by Mr Hancock, a No 10 spokesman said: “There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus.
“The Prime Minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24.”
The Government has been urging people to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as shops since early May and they have already been made compulsory on public transport in England since mid-June.
The regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100 - reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.
Enforcement of the regulations will be the responsibility of the police.
While shop workers will be asked to encourage compliance, retailers and businesses will not be expected to enforce them.
As is the case on public transport, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.
Here is what you need to know about the new rules on face masks:
- 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. It will be up to police to dish out penalties, not business owners or shop workers, although they are being asked to encourage customers to comply.
- 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.
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 in England 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.