Just hours before new enforceable rules come into effect, the government has finally released full guidance on wearing face masks and coverings in shops in England.

Face masks and coverings will become mandatory as of Friday 24th July. They must be worn in enclosed public spaces including supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks and post offices.

They must also be worn when buying takeaway food and drink, although they can be removed in a seating area.

This move has been criticised with many questioning why it’s acceptable to sit down and remove face coverings in a premises to consume food or drink, but then if you’re collecting a takeaway from the same place you must wear a face mask.

Those who break the rules could face a fine of up to £100.

Exemptions will be made for children under 11, those with disabilities or certain health conditions, such as respiratory or cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to wear a face covering.

It is not compulsory for shop workers to wear face coverings but the government said it “strongly” recommended that employers consider their use where appropriate.

The government said it was the responsibility of individuals to wear a face covering, although businesses are being encouraged to take reasonable steps to encourage customers to follow the law, including through signs and providing other information in store.

Police will have powers to enforce the rules, although forces have said this will be a last resort and officers will not be patrolling premises.

There is evidence to suggest that, when used correctly, face coverings may reduce the likelihood of someone with the infection passing it on to others, particularly if they are asymptomatic.

Wearing a face covering will not be made mandatory in other venues that have measures in place to protect staff and the public from Covid-19 including:

  • Eat-in restaurants and pubs
  • Hairdressers and other treatment salons
  • Gyms and leisure centres
  • Cinemas, concert halls and theatres

Health and Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “As we move into the next stage of easing restrictions for the public, it is vital we continue to shop safely so that we can make the most of our fantastic retail industry this summer.

“Everyone must play their part in fighting this virus by following this new guidance. I also want to thank the British public for all the sacrifices they are making to help keep this country safe.”

As well as shops and supermarkets, face coverings must be worn in banks, building societies and post offices. Wearing a face covering will not be made mandatory in other venues that have measures in place to protect staff and the public from COVID-19.

For transport hubs in England, the requirements mean face coverings must be worn in indoor train stations and terminals, airports, maritime ports, and indoor bus and coach stations or terminals.

Anyone who doesn’t abide by the regulations – and is not exempt under one of the categories set out in the regulations – could face a fine by the police of up to £100, as is currently the case on public transport. The police have been very clear throughout the pandemic that they will “engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce as a last resort”.

People wearing face coverings are still strongly advised to wash their hands or use hand sanitiser before putting one on or taking it off, avoid taking it off and putting it back on again a lot in quick succession, store it in a plastic bag in between washes or wearing, and avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth while wearing one.

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