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

THE UK is getting used to wearing face masks and coverings in most public settings now – but some people are exempt from having to wear one.

Penalties for not wearing a mask have been toughened up this month, but there are times you can take it off without risking a fine.

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Who is exempt from wearing a face mask?

While masks are compulsory in most public settings, there are exceptions to those who need to wear them.

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
  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • An employee of the transport operator, or in any other indoor setting where appropriate when they are acting in the course of their employment
  • Where a mask causes the wearer severe distress
  • An emergency responder such as a police officer, paramedic or fire officer acting in the course of their duty
  • Someone speaking to or helping anyone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate
  • Someone acting to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to themselves or others – including if it would negatively impact on your ability to exercise or participate in a strenuous activity

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:

  • Public Health England do not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3
  • To eat or drink if reasonably necessary
  • In order to take medication
  • If a police officer or other official asks you remove your face covering
  • If you are getting married
  • If you need to show your face for identification reasons
  • If needed for a service like a haircut
  • If you are delivering a sermon or prayer in a place or worship
  • If you are undertaking exercise or an activity where it would negatively impact your ability to do so

You are also not required to wear a facemask if you are in hospitality settings with table service like restaurants, bars and pubs.

However you must wear one when leaving and entering the building.

For exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific government guidance for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

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

Those who are exempted from wearing a face mask could be asked to show a "face-covering exemption" ID of some sort.

This is a personal choice, and is not necessary in law.

The government says that this could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

The travel exemption card is available to download for free on the TfL website, and can be used with other operators.

Alternatively you can download and print one for general use here.

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: "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."

Are shoppers allowed in stores without a face mask?

From July 24 it has been 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, which will then double with every offence up to £3,200.

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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