23 July 2020

Use of face coverings in shops and supermarkets

As of Friday 24th July, it will be mandatory in England for all customers to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets (except in exceptional circumstances).

Under the new rules, shops and supermarkets will be expected to encourage customers to comply with the new law and can refuse entry. Police will not be undertaking proactive patrols to monitor compliance with these Regulations, and will be looking to shop owners to deal with issues relating to face coverings as a condition of entry. Policing will continue to apply the four-step escalation principles: Engage, Explain, Encourage and – only as a last resort – Enforce.

Face coverings are not a replacement for social distancing or regular hand washing, and everyone should continue to follow these measures. The liability for wearing a face covering lies with the individual.

There are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, where people are not expected to wear face coverings. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances, noting there may be a legitimate reason for some people not wearing a face covering.


Why are face coverings being advised?

Face coverings are largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of the virus that causes the COVID-19 infection.

Face coverings are not classified as PPE (personal protective equipment) – eg surgical masks, respirators – which are used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks.

The best available scientific evidence shows that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.

How to correctly wear a face covering

The face covering should:

  • cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
  • fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
  • be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
  • ideally include at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organisation recommends three, depending on the fabric used)
  • if reusable, be able to be washed with other items of laundry
  • if single-use, be disposed of carefully in a waste bin (do not recycle)

When wearing/handling a face covering you should:

  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting on/removing
  • avoid wearing on your neck or forehead
  • avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus. Only handle the straps, ties or clips
  • not share the face covering with someone else
  • change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed

What are the exceptions for wearing face coverings?

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes:

  • children under the age of 11
  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with, or helping, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering:

  • If asked to do so by shop staff for the purpose of age identification
  • If speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication.

For more information, visit www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own.