When are face masks mandatory? Rules explained as mask wearing made compulsory in some settings in England

Wearing a face mask is now compulsory in shops and other settings in England - and strongly recommended in schools
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Face masks are mandatory on public transport, in shops and in other settings in England from Tuesday 30 November, as more Omicron cases are identified in the UK.

Wearing a face covering is also being recommended in England’s schools as measures are tightened to combat the spread of the new Covid variant.

People will have to pay hefty fines for breaking the rules, but what exactly are they - and where are face masks compulsory?

When do we have to wear face masks?

Face masks are now compulsory in England in a number of public settings, including in shops and on public transport.

Members of the public and staff are required to wear face coverings in the following settings from 4am on Tuesday 30 November:

  • Shops and supermarkets
  • Shopping centres
  • Auction houses
  • Post offices
  • Banks, building societies, and other money services buildings
  • Estate and letting agents
  • Hairdressers and barbers
  • Tattoo and piercing studios
  • Nail salons
  • Massage centres
  • Pharmacies
  • Vet clinics
  • Retail galleries
  • Travel agents
  • Takeaways without space for consumption of food or drink on premises
  • Public transport (planes, trains, trams, buses, coaches and ferries)
  • Taxis and private hire vehicles
  • Transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
  • Any car or small van during a professionally delivered driving lesson and practical driving test
  • During all driving tests and lessons (including HGV)

The new rules will bring England back closer into line with the rules in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, however masks will still not be required in pubs and restaurants in England.

Speaking on Tuesday 30 November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the reintroduction of mask wearing in England. “The measures taking effect today are proportionate and responsible, and will buy us time in the face of this new (Omicron) variant,” he said.

“Vaccines and boosters remain our best line of defence, so it is more important than ever that people come forward when eligible to get boosted.”

Masks are also being recommended in schools, colleges and universities.

Staff and pupils in Year 7 and above are being “strongly advised” to cover their faces in classrooms and communal areas, such as canteens and corridors, from Monday 29 November.

Will I be fined for not wearing a face mask?

Those who fail to comply with the new face mask wearing rules will face hefty fines, with the rules enforceable by a penalty.

Failure to wear a mask in the required settings will result in a fine of £200 for the first offence, with this amount doubling with further rule breaks.

This means you would be fined £200 for a second offence, and £800 for a third offence, with fines continuing to increase up to £6,400.

Which other Covid rules are tightening?

New rules are also being introduced around travel, PCR tests and self isolation.

Passengers arriving into the UK from 4am on Tuesday 30 November will be required to take a PCR test on day 2 of arrival, and must self isolate until they receive a negative result.

Meanwhile, 10 southern African nations have been added to the UK’s red list for travel.

People who have been in close contact of positive Omicron cases must isolate for 10 days, even if they’ve been vaccinated, amid fears that the vaccine could be less effective against the new strain.

The new Covid rules explained. (Graphic: NationalWorld)The new Covid rules explained. (Graphic: NationalWorld)
The new Covid rules explained. (Graphic: NationalWorld)

How many cases of the Omicron variant are there in the UK?

A total of 14 cases of the Omicron variant, first discovered in South Africa, have been identified in the UK at the time of writing.

The first two UK cases were discovered in Nottingham and Essex on Saturday 27 November, with a third detected on Sunday in a person who visited Westminster in London before leaving the UK.

Six cases of the new strain were identified in Scotland on Monday 29 November.

Two of these were found in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area, while four were discovered in the Lanarkshire area.

A further two cases were found in England on Monday, and on Tuesday 30 November, three more cases were confirmed in Scotland.

Health experts have warned that more Omicron cases are likely to be discovered in the coming days.

Will Christmas be affected?

Despite a tightening of rules around mask wearing and self isolation, health secretary Sajid Javid has told families they should plan for Christmas “as normal”.

He reassured the public that it was “nowhere near” time to reintroduce work from home guidance or social distancing rules.

Speaking to Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday 28 November, Javid said: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas”, but caveated this by saying it “would be irresponsible to make guarantees”.

The government already has a plan B for tackling Covid this winter, however Javid played down the need to reintroduce social distancing measure or work from home rules.

He told Sky: “We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-Covid health outcomes such as impact on mental health.

“So, if one was to make decisions like that they would have to be done very, very carefully and we’re not there yet, we’re nowhere near that.”

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is set to review whether Covid booster jabs would be extended to anyone over 18.

Javid said he expected to receive new advice “imminently”.

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