In England, rules regarding face masks are changing, with new measures being introduced to make it mandatory to wear them in some public places, including shops.
Face coverings have been compulsory on public transport since 15 June in England, but from 24 July, it will also be compulsory to wear them in shops and supermarkets, leaving those who don’t currently have a mask or covering scrambling to source one.
While some members of the public welcome the new measures as a way of slowing the spread of COVID-19, others may not feel comfortable with having to wear a mask, perhaps because they have breathing issues or disabilities that make wearing a face covering difficult.
And parents have been left wondering whether their children will now have to don a face mask for a trip to the shops.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new face covering rules, including who is exempt from wearing one.
Will children have to wear face masks in shops?
The government has stated that young children under the age of 11, will be exempt from wearing face masks in public when the rules change on 24 July.
However, older children will be expected to comply with the new rules.
The government previously advised that face coverings should be worn by children over the age of three in an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible.
Who else is exempt from wearing a face covering?
The government guidance currently states: “In settings where face coverings are mandated in England, there are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, whereby people are not expected to wear face coverings in these settings.”
The government has provided a list of people and circumstances exempt from the new rules:
young children under the age of 11
people who are not able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
people for whom putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause them severe distress
people who are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
Other reasons you are allowed not to wear a face mask in settings where they are compulsory include:
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
There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:
if a police officer or other official requests you remove your 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
Read more: The face mask hacks you need to know
Do I need an exemption card to prove I don’t need to wear a mask?
At the moment there is no official ‘card’ that you need to show to prove you are exempt from the rules, as set out by the UK government.
However, the charity Hidden Disabilities has created a face mask exemption card for people who fit the correct requirements to be exempt from the new measures.
The card costs 55p and simply indicates that you have a hidden disability, illness or impairment and have a reasonable reason not to wear a face covering.
“Businesses who are members of the scheme are aware of our card and provide support, help, assistance or simply a little more time to those wearing the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower,” the Hidden Disabilities website explains.
“However, please note that shops and public transport can still refuse you entry if you are not wearing a face covering.”
Following face coverings being made mandatory on public transport, TFL also released an ‘exemption card’ for people with conditions, such as severe asthma, that rule out wearing face coverings.
The TFL card simply says “I am exempt from wearing a face covering” and can be downloaded and printed off via the TFL website.
TFL has tweeted to say there is no need to provide medical proof to use the card (similar to the way it is not necessary to provide proof of pregnancy for a ‘baby on board’ badge).
Do I need a doctors’ note to prove I don’t need to wear a face covering?
People who have a relevant medical condition, such as breathing difficulties, are exempt from the mask rules, and may identify themselves as a patient who does not need to wear one.
However, there does not appear to be official government’s guidance stating a need to obtain a sick note from a GP to show to officials or shop staff who question them.
Despite this, it was recently revealed doctors have reported an increase in the number of patients without relevant medical conditions requesting a note from their GP to exempt them from the government’s face mask rules.
Yahoo UK has contacted the government for further clarification.
What happens if I don’t wear a mask when I should?
If you aren’t included in the list of people who are exempt from having to wear a mask, you could find yourself in trouble with the law.
Transport operators can deny service to someone not wearing a mask, and from Friday shops and supermarkets can also refuse entry to those not wearing a mask.
If necessary, police and Transport for London authorised officers can issue fines of £100 to those not wearing a face covering.
If you pay the fine within two weeks, the fine is reduced from £100 to £50.