Face Masks and Coverings to be Compulsory in England’s Shops
Since mid-May, the government advises the public to wear coverings in enclosed public spaces where they would encounter people they wouldn’t usually meet. On the 15th of June, it was made compulsory to wear a mask while in public transport or at any NHS facility across the UK.
The government has gone a step further to issue a directive that comes into effect on the 24th of July. The new regulation requires everyone to wear a face mask while in a shop or supermarket in England.
This new directive adds England to a group of European countries like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Scotland that require their citizens to wear face masks when visiting shops or supermarkets. According to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the new requirement would “give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protection for those who work in the shops.”
Mr Hancock also revealed to the Commons that, “Sadly, sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis.” “The death rate of sales and retail assistant is 75% higher amongst men and 60% higher amongst women than in the general population.”
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He also added that “There is evidence that face masks increase confidence in the people to shop.” However, the new rule will not apply to the retail staff.
Exemptions to the regulation
The list of exemptions to the new rule has not been published yet. However, they’re likely going to be more or less the same as those being enforced on public transport.
The rules on public transport exempt anyone who cannot wear the mask “because of any physical, or mental illness or impairment or disability.” It also exempts those who would experience “severe distress” from doing so or those that rely on lip-reading, among other reasons.
Environment Secretary George Eustice told the BBC that wearing face makes in shops is “appropriate mitigation” against the “overall risk” but that the rule would not work in pubs, cafes, or restaurants.
Enforcement of the New Rules
While some Commons thought the ministers had been “slow and muddled” on the issue of face makes and called for the rules to be in effect for 11 days, the environment secretary said the 24th July timeline “gives people more time to prepare.”
After the 24th of July, those who don’t comply with the new requirements will face a fine of up to £100, which will reduce to £50 if paid within 14 days.
In addition to the fine, Mr Hancock also said, “shops can refuse entry to customers who don’t wear the face masks and call the police if they refuse to comply.” To which Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chief’s Council, added that the police should be involved only as a “last resort.”
Unions and businesses have said the new regulations must be “clear and detailed” to protect staff and customers. The shop workers union Usdaw has welcomed clarity over the issue and said the coverings shouldn’t be a substitute for strict hygiene controls or social distancing measures.