The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 22:25
Woman wearing a face covering

Challenges as new face covering rules come into force in England

New rules come into force in England today making it compulsory for customers in shops in England to wear face coverings.

Under the rules, face coverings must be worn by everyone when in indoor shopping centres, banks, takeaways and supermarkets, except for those who are exempt from the rules for being under 11 years old or for medical reasons.

Anyone disobeying the rules can, in theory, be fined up to £100, however, there are questions over whether the rules can be effectively enforced. There are also questions over other problems that the new regulations may cause – here’s a look at a few…


Can the rules be enforced?

While some retailers including Waitrose have said they have staff at entrances reminding customers of the rule, many retailers have said they will not enforce the rules. The Government has urged retailers to encourage the use of face-coverings and even block entry to stores to those disobeying the rules, however, the government has said that it is largely down to individuals to comply with the rules.

The wearing of face coverings is already mandatory on public transport, though the extent to which this has been enforced has varied. There have been many reports of people being denied entry to buses due to not wearing a face covering, however, there have also been reports of people removing face masks and disobeying the rules once seated on public transport.

On trains, conductors are generally not allowed to walk through trains currently, making any enforcement of the face coverings rules difficult. 

Police will have the powers to fine people breaking the rules, but it does seem unlikely that many people will be fined under the new regulations.


What about those that can’t wear face masks?

Government ministers have said that they are confident that “the vast majority of people” will comply with face-covering regulations, however, some people simply can’t comply with the rules.

Under government guidance, young children should not wear face coverings due to the risk of suffocation. People with certain health conditions may also find it difficult to wear a face covering and some are exempt from the rules.

Some people that can’t wear face coverings are anxious about the new regulations, worried that they may be confronted in public for not wearing a face covering. Many disabilities are invisible and it isn’t always easy to tell who is and isn’t exempt from the rules.

The Government has produced some exemption cards and badges to help people communicate that they are exempt from the face-covering rules, though using these is not required under the law. 


Will people be discouraged from shopping, hence harming the economy?

Some people have said they will feel more confident to go shopping when face coverings are mandatory – indeed, this is what the government will be hoping to be the case.

However, plenty of people have said they will stay away from shops will face masks are mandatory. The customer experience in many shops recently has been very different to before lockdown, with significant restrictions in place. The added regulation of mandatory face coverings will no doubt put more people off shopping in person.

If more people are driven away from the already struggling high streets than are driven to it by the new regulation, it seems somewhat inevitable that more jobs could be lost in the sector.


The UK Government has been clear that it feels that the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces can help tackle the COVID-19 Coroanvirus pandemic. While many will no doubt wear face coverings and abide by the rules, there are challenges that both the government and members of the public could face from the news rules being implemented and that will need to be successfully managed to help ensure an effective response to and recovery from the pandemic.

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