Face coverings in England from 30 November 2021

From 30 November 2021, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021 require, by Regulation 3(1), most people aged 11 and above to wear a face covering in England “whilst entering or remaining within a relevant place,” and, Regulation 4(1), whilst on public transport.  Unless they are renewed, they will expire at the end of 20 December 2021.

A “relevant place” includes shops, shopping centres, banks, building societies and post offices as set out in Part 1 of Schedule 1. It also includes transport hubs.  People are required to wear a face covering indoors when using a public transport service. This includes on buses, trains, private hire vehicles, taxis, the London Underground, trams, aircraft and water taxis. It does not include school transport that is being used solely for that purpose, or cruise ships. People are required to wear a face covering when they are in a transport hub, which is any premises used as a place from or to which a public transport service operates, The requirement only applies to areas that are indoors and open to the public.

Importantly, face coverings are not required in other places, including hospitality settings.  The Explanatory Memorandum explains that these settings are excluded “because mandating face coverings in hospitality settings would be impractical and would be likely to have a high negative economic and social impact. Face coverings are most effective when properly used and correctly fitted. Loss of inhibition from alcohol consumption is likely to lead to people not wearing them correctly, and indeed when face coverings are constantly removed (to eat and drink, or dance in a hospitality setting) their effectiveness declines even further.

A person is not required to wear a face covering if they have a “reasonable excuse” for not wearing a face covering.  A non-exhaustive list of circumstances in which a person has a reasonable excuse is set out in regulation 5, and includes an inability to wear a face covering because of medical reasons or disability, to avoid the risk of harm or injury, or for eating and drinking or taking medication.  As the Explanatory Memorandum identifies, “[n]obody who has a reasonable excuse and is therefore not wearing a face covering should be prevented from visiting any setting because of the requirements in these Regulations. Furthermore, people do not need to show proof of this reasonable excuse under the Regulations. Further information on this is available in the relevant guidance published on GOV.UK.”

If a person who is required to, is not wearing a face covering and does not have a reasonable excuse, then a relevant person (which includes a constable, policy community support officer, TfL officer, or transport operator, as defined at regulation 9(12) can deny that person entry, direct that person to wear a face covering and may direct that person to leave. A police constable can also remove someone from the premises, using reasonable force if necessary.

Failure to wear a face covering when required (or comply with a direction) can give rise to criminal sanctions.

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