Following the discovery in South Africa of the now named Omicron Covid-19 variant, the Government has introduced new regulations.
From 4am on 30 November 2021, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings (England)) Regulations 2021 require members of the public to wear face coverings whilst inside a relevant place specified in the Regulations, or whilst using public transport in England, to protect against the risks to public health arising from the new variant.
They also require businesses in places where wearing a face covering is required to display notices giving information about that requirement.
These Regulations only apply to England and will be reviewed in three weeks. They cease to have effect at the end of 20th December 2021.
Places where face coverings must be worn
The new rule applies to:
- All public transport, including taxis and private hire vehicles, and transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals).
- Shops and supermarkets and generally places that offer goods or services for retail sale or hire, enclosed shopping centres and indoor markets.
- Takeaways without space for consumption of food or drink on the premises.
- Premises providing personal care and beauty treatments such as hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing studios.
- Auction houses and retail galleries.
- Post offices
- Banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses.
- Estate and lettings agents and retail travel agents.
- Masks must also be worn during driving lessons and driving tests.
Places where face coverings need not be worn
- All hospitality venues are exempt, including pubs, restaurants, cafes and canteens, bars, restaurants and bars in hotels or members’ clubs, and shisha bars.
- Premises (other than registered pharmacies) providing medical or dental services, audiology services, chiropody, osteopathic, optometry or other medical services including services relating to mental health.
- Photography studios
Who is exempt?
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. Furthermore, people do not need to show proof of this reasonable excuse under the Regulations.
Punishments for non-compliance
People who are not wearing a face covering where they have to can be fined in the form of a fixed penalty notice and be ordered to pay £200, rising to £400 for the second such offence, and to £800 for the third, up to a maximum of £6400 for a sixth and subsequent fixed penalty notice.
These Regulations can be enforced by a constable, a police community support officer, a TfL officer, staff of public transport operators, or any person designated by the secretary of state for the purposes of this regulation.
These people can direct a person to wear a face covering or direct that person to leave the relevant place and, where a person does not comply with a direction given to them by a constable, a police constable can remove them from the premises, using reasonable force if necessary.
Requirements relating to signage and information
Regulation 6 requires a responsible person to display a notice in a relevant place or public transport vehicle stating that any person present in that setting is required to wear a face covering unless exempt.
Alternatively, the responsible person may take other measures to ensure that people entering a relevant place or boarding a public transport vehicle is given this information (e.g. an announcement over the public address system).
It is clear these measures have been introduced as a precaution while more information is gathered and assessed on the Omicron variant.
Nonetheless as we continue to learn more about this new variant, it will be interesting to evaluate in the future if these current measures were indeed adequate, if more was necessary or if this new threat has been over estimated.