When face masks will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England - and the rules explained

Face coverings are mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July (Photo: Shutterstock)

Face coverings are to be made mandatory in shops in England this week, as the UK government updates the law.

It is already mandatory for face coverings to be worn on public transport in England, after the law came into effect on 15 June, but rules are to be made stricter as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.

When will face masks be mandatory?

As of Friday 24 July, it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England.

This change in the law comes following rules enforced by the government in June, which requires the public by law to wear face coverings on public transport.

Government guidance also encourages people in England to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, in which it is more difficult to observe social distancing, or where people are more likely to come into contact with others they would not normally meet.

At the moment, people are not being told to wear masks outdoors, while exercising, or in schools or offices.

The government has said that while a face covering does not protect the wearer, it is beneficial as it may protect others from contracting an infection. This is particularly the case if other people are infected with the virus, but have not yet developed any symptoms.

Does everyone have to wear face masks?

Some people will be exempt from wearing face coverings in shops when the law comes into effect on 24 July.

This included children under the age of 11, people with certain disabilities, and those who have breathing disabilities.

These exemptions also apply to wearing masks on public transport.

All other members of the public who do not fall into any of these categories must comply with the rules.

How will rules be enforced?

Under the new rules, the UK government has said people who do not wear a face covering will be fined, as is already the case on public transport.

However, unlike on public transport, retail staff will not be expected to enforce the rules - the new measures will instead be upheld by the police.

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

Should people who are not exempt from the rules refuse to wear a face covering, a shop has the right to refuse them entry into the store. Shops can also call the police in the event of non-compliance, with police given the formal enforcement powers to issue a fine.

What sort of face covering should I use?

The government has advised that scarves, or homemade cotton coverings, that cover the nose and mouth, and other bought masks that are not the same as those used by the health service are fine to wear.

Surgical masks should be kept for use by health professionals.

Officials have said that people can make a face covering at home, but added it is key to ensure it covers your nose and mouth.

Can I still go out if I have symptoms but wear a mask?

You cannot go out under any circumstances if you have symptoms of coronavirus.

If you develop symptoms, you and other members of your household should self-isolate at home.

Are face masks scientifically effective?

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) believes that the evidence of masks or coverings preventing the spread of infection from one person to another is "marginal but positive".

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that there is no evidence that wearing a mask, whether medical or not, by a healthy person in the community can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including coronavirus.

What are the downsides of wearing a mask?

Concerns have been raised that wearing face coverings could give a false sense of security and mean that people are less stringent with other preventative measures, such as social distancing and hand hygiene.