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Face masks rules: What will happen if I don't wear a covering in a shop?

File photo dated 14/07/20 of a woman wearing a face mask. Face coverings will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets from Friday.
Face coverings are mandatory in shops from 24 July. (PA)

Face coverings are set to become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from Friday.

The new rules means if people don’t have their nose and mouth covered, they could be fined up to £100.

But confusion has surrounded the new rule, with some people saying it’s not clear exactly where and when you should wear a face covering.

Here is everything you need to do about the introduction of face coverings in England.

Who has to wear face coverings, and where do you have to wear them?

From 24 July, people have to have their nose and mouth covered in shops or they could face fines of up to £100.

There are some exceptions — people with certain disabilities and health conditions will be exempt from the rule.


Children under the age of 11 in England are exempt, while in Scotland only children under the age of five are.

The move is the latest step in encouraging people to wear face coverings, after they became mandatory on public transport in June.

There had been some confusion over certain situations, but on Friday the Department of Health and Social Care confirmed people will need to wear a face covering in sandwich shops like Pret if people intend to take their food and coffee away.

If they sit down to eat or drink, they will be able to remove their face covering in that area.

It is likely takeaway outlets will fall under the same criteria.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “From Friday July 24, it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets, as is currently the case on public transport.

“If a shop or supermarket has a cafe or a seating area to eat and drink, you can remove your face covering in that area.”

What happens if you don’t wear one?

Anyone failing to wear a face covering while shopping will be subject to a fine of up to £100, or £50 if paid within 14 days, with enforcement carried out by police — not retail staff.

Last month, it emerged that passengers who do not wear face coverings on public transport can have “reasonable force” used against them by police.

Announcing the rule change in June, transport secretary Grant Shapps warned: “You could be refused travel if you don’t comply, and you could be fined.”

The Department for Transport rules can be enforced by police and transport staff with fines of £100.

A commuter wearing a protective face mask while traveling on a Victoria line underground train in London, as face coverings becomes compulsory on public transport in England Picture date: Friday July 3, 2020.
Face coverings have been compulsory on public transport in England since June. (PA)

Which governments and bodies insist on face coverings?

Initially many experts and authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO), suggested face coverings were not effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 but many now recommends= wearing them in indoor spaces.

Face masks are already mandatory in shops in Scotland, as well as on public transport.

However, in Wales the move is not being replicated. While face coverings will be mandatory on public transport in Wales from 27 July, there are no plans for them to be made compulsory in shops.

Different countries have taken different approaches to face coverings, with around 120 countries — including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece — now requiring coverings to be worn in public places.

But what does the science say?

Experts say the risk of coronavirus transmission appears to be higher in poorly ventilated indoor spaces and wearing face coverings in small shops or enclosed shopping centres could help reduce the spread.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, said: “Lack of strong evidence of their effectiveness should not be considered a problem but the evidence is accumulating that they have a part to play in reducing transmission and also in protecting the wearer.”

A recent report from the Royal Society suggests that even basic homemade face coverings can reduce transmission if enough people wear them when in public.

The study, based on mathematical modelling, showed that if an entire population wore face coverings that were only 75% effective, it would bring the R value, which is the number of people an infected individual passes the virus on to, from 4.0 to under 1.0, without the need for lockdowns.

Another Royal Society report suggests the use of cotton masks is associated with a 54% lower odds of infection in comparison to the no mask groups, when tested in a healthcare setting.

What face covering should I be wearing?

The WHO 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 face covering alone cannot protect people from COVID-19, and must be combined with social distancing of at least a metre and regular hand washing.

Ideally the face coverings should be made of multilayer high quality cotton.

The Government has said coverings can be made from scarves, bandanas or other fabric items, as long as they cover the mouth and nose.

But scientists at the Leverhulme Centre, who studied different types of face coverings used by members of the public, say some coverings are not as effective as others, with loosely woven fabrics, such as scarves, shown to be the least effective.

Prof Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre, said: “Attention must also be placed on how well it fits on the face; it should loop around the ears or around the back of the neck for better coverage.”

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