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Coronavirus: New face covering rules come into force in England

Shoppers wearing face masks as they shop in Islington, on 11 July 2020Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES

Face coverings are now compulsory for customers in shops in England, after new coronavirus rules came into force within 12 hours of the government issuing guidance on the change.

Coverings are mandatory in enclosed public spaces such as supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, transport hubs, banks and takeaways. 

Police can hand out fines of up to £100 to those who do not comply.

But some retailers have insisted they will not enforce the rule.

Sainsbury's and Costa Coffee said their staff will not challenge customers who enter their stores without masks, while Asda said enforcement was the "responsibility of the relevant authorities".

But Waitrose will have staff at the entrance reminding customers of the rule, and Tesco will be selling face coverings at shop entrances.

Greggs and McDonalds said takeaway customers need to wear masks.

Guidance issued by the government on Thursday for England states that staff in premises where face coverings are required are encouraged to take steps "to promote compliance with the law" and can refuse entry to people who do not have a valid exemption under the rules.

However, the government said it was the responsibility of individuals to wear one, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock has urged the public to "play their part" by following the new guidance.

"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," he said.

Media captionHow to wear a face covering

Police will be able to "use force" to remove customers from shops if they do not wear face coverings, as well as prevent them from entering, according to the College of Policing.

But forces have said they will only be enforcing the rules, including issuing the £100 fines, as a last resort - and officers will not be patrolling premises. 

There are exemptions to the new rules 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.

Public Health England has warned parents not to buy coverings for babies and young children because of the risk of choking or suffocation.

Masks will not be mandatory in indoor venues that have other safety measures in place, including:

  • Eat-in restaurants
  • Pubs
  • Hairdressers and salons
  • Gyms and leisure centres
  • Cinemas, concert halls and theatres
  • Visitor attractions like museums
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Can police make me cover my face?

The Police Federation, which represents front-line officers, says they can't spend their time patrolling thousands upon thousands of outlets.

Shop staff and security guards can already detain shoplifters while waiting for the police to arrive and police leaders hope shop managers will refuse non-mask wearers entry - rather than turning to the police to solve the problem.

Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has said that police in London would only enforce the wearing of coverings in shops "as a last resort" - if people not wearing a covering refused to leave a shop or became "aggressive".

Read more here.

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Retail and trade organisations have criticised the government over the length of time taken for the guidance to be published, after the measure was announced more than a week ago. 

Meanwhile, union leaders voiced fears the rules could put workers' safety at risk if there are abusive customers or people who refuse to wear a mask.

The British Retail Consortium called on customers to be "respectful" of the new rules, while UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said takeaway outlets had been left with "a very short time to properly brief staff, prepare signage and take steps to encourage compliance".

Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus'
Edited by CyderInACan
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