Face mask exemptions: Who doesn't have to wear a covering in the UK?

FACE masks are now compulsory in certain settings – but some people are exempt from having to wear one.

From today, July 24, people will have to wear face masks in shops and supermarkets – and anyone refusing to do so will be fined up to £100.

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Customers who do not wear one will face a £100 fine, but it could be cut to £50 if they pay within a fortnight.

Also, it has been compulsory for travellers to wear a mask on public transport since June 15, 2020.

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask?

While masks are compulsory in many settings, there are exceptions to those who need to wear them if there are medical issues aggravated by a face covering.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "There will be exceptions to these rules for very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties."

According to the official Government guidance, the following groups are not required to wear a face-covering while using public transport or in a shop:

  • A child under the age of 11
  • An employee of the transport operator, when they are acting in the course of their employment
  • Any other person providing services to the transport operator, under arrangements made with the transport operator, who is providing those services
  • A constable or police community support officer acting in the course of their duty
  • An emergency responder such as a paramedic or fire officer acting in the course of their duty
  • An official, for example, a border force officer, acting in the course of their duties
  • If you are allocated a cabin, berth or other similar accommodation, at any time when you are in that accommodation, either alone, or only with members of your own household or a linked household
  • If you are on board public transport but remain in your private vehicle, for example on a car ferry

There are also a series of factors which the Government describes as a “reasonable excuse”, which also means you don’t have to wear a mask:

  • If you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
  • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
  • If you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • If you are travelling to avoid injury or escape the risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • If you need to remove it during your journey to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
  • If you need to eat, drink, or take medication you can remove your face covering
  • If you are asked to remove your face covering by a police officer or other official, for example to check your railcard
  • According to the website Autism Eye, these rules around “reasonable excuses” also cover passengers with autism.

What is a face mask exemption card and how can you get one?

Those who are exempted from wearing a face mask will be asked to get a "face-covering exemption card" to carry while using public transport.

The card is available to download for free on the TfL website.

TfL will also recognise similar cards that may have been issued by other transport operators.

The card can also be displayed on a smartphone.

If you do not have a printer or a smartphone, you can contact TfL and they will print and post a card to you.

Some TfL staff may also use this card.

Will travellers be refused boarding without a face mask?

Travellers who are not among the exempt categories will be refused boarding if they are not wearing a mask or told to get off.

Mr Shapps said: "I can announce that as of Monday, June 15, face coverings will become mandatory on public transport.

"The evidence suggests that wearing a face masks offers some, limited protection.

"You can be refused travel if you don't comply and you could be fined.

"It’s a condition of travel. You cannot travel if you are not wearing a face covering."

Will shoppers be allowed in stores without a face mask?

On July 14, Matt Hancock confirmed that from July 24 it would be mandatory for people in England to wear face masks in shops and supermarkets.

Shopkeepers have been asked to implement the new rules in their stores.

But ultimately, the new rules on wearing masks in shops will be enforced by the police, not shop workers.

Anyone spotted flouting the new rules could be hit with a £100 fine.

Doctors have insisted masks are crucial to slow the spread of coronavirus and make life safer for the most vulnerable.

On July 14, Chair of the British Medical Association’s Medical Academic Staff Committee and Exeter University lecturer Dr David Strain said: “We need masks to slow the spread and make life safer for the most vulnerable to go about essential activities.

“Yesterday more than 500 people tested positive for the virus, which the ONS figures suggest is only about a third of the true number of new cases in the UK.

“The remaining two thirds of the population with the virus are the ‘silent spreaders’, people who carry and can potentially spread the virus despite having no symptoms themselves.

“The mandatory use of face coverings will reduce the risk to the population at large from these individuals.”


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