The Government’s latest evidence on the Omicron variant suggests community transmission of the variant and signals that further action is necessary to slow the spread and protect public health. Therefore, on 10 December 2021 the Government implemented the above amending Regulations to expand the mandatory wearing of face coverings to a greater number of settings.
The Regulations also require businesses in places where wearing a face covering is required, to display notices giving information about that requirement.
These amending Regulations only apply to England and have no review clause. They cease to have effect at the end of 26 January 2022.
Places Where Face Coverings Must Be Worn
The updated Regulations note all the places where you must wear a face covering by law, unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse.
In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings:
- Enclosed shopping centres
- Banks, building societies, high street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses
- Post offices
- Places of worship
- Crematoria and burial ground chapels
- Community centres, youth centres, members’ clubs and social clubs
- Public areas on hotels and hostels
- Concert halls, exhibition halls, conference centres and other public halls
- Museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos and visitor farms, and other tourist, heritage or cultural sites
- Bingo halls
- Public libraries and reading rooms
- Polling stations and premises being used for counting of votes
- Play and soft play areas and soft play centres
- Snooker and pool halls
- Amusement arcades and adult gaming centres
- Games and recreation venues (including laser quest, escape rooms and recreational driving facilities)
- Skating rinks
- Theme parks, fairgrounds, funfairs, and adventure parks
- Sports stadia
- Public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams, buses, coaches, water taxies and ferries), taxis and private hire vehicles. This does not include school transport or cruise ships.
- Any car or small van during a professionally delivered driving lesson, a practical driving test, or during one of the practical tests for giving driving instruction, and in all HGV lessons and tests
- Transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
- Motorway service areas
Places Where Face Coverings Need Not Be Worn
Settings which are exempt from wearing a face covering include:
- Restaurants, cafes and canteens
- Pubs, bars and shisha bars
- Gyms and exercise facilities
- Leisure centres, swimming pools and water and aqua parks
- Photography studios
- Nightclubs, dance halls and discotheques
- When it is necessary for someone to sing such as part of a choir, during a service, rehearsal or for a performance.
Businesses cannot prevent staff, visitors or customers from wearing a face covering in these settings if they choose to wear one, and it is an offence to do so.
Face coverings are also not required in premises or a part of a premises where the main activity is eating, drinking, exercising or dancing.
Requirements Relating To Signage And Information
A notice must be displayed 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, other measures must be taken 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).
The Regulations can be enforced by police, police community offers, transport operators and local authority enforcement officers.
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, the police can remove them from the premises, using reasonable force if necessary.
The police and Transport for London officers have enforcement powers, including issuing fixed penalties of £200 for the first offence (reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days), a second penalty of £400, a third of £800, up to a maximum of £6,400.
These amending Regulations were introduced following the Prime Minister’s announcement on the evening of 8 December 2021 but fail to include anything about the new “working from home” recommendation. The Government guidance simply states that “office workers who can work from home should do so” from 13 December 21.
Whilst the Government clearly acknowledged that hospitality is safe and can continue to host celebrations in the lead up to Christmas, the devasting impact of reintroducing “work from home” guidance will lead to will undoubtedly lead to the cancellation of Christmas parties and gatherings during the festive period and a very difficult January for the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Businesses have been left in the quandary of being advised that its employees should work from home (if they can) but can come into the office for a Christmas party.
The amending Regulations contain some important guidance but fall short in covering all the key points noted in the Prime Minister’s announcement. Whilst the Regulations appear to safeguard the hospitality sector, it is in fact this sector which is most affected by cancellations and lack of bookings. We can expect at least some Government guidance for the new “work from home” measures and the meaning of parties (and Christmas parties) to reduce further impact.
It should be said that on publication of every set of Covid regulations it has been easy to pick on anomalies. This time is no different but the working from home recommendation is guidance and not law.
I hope that there will be no need for further Covid Briefings over the coming days and weeks. I take this opportunity to wish any reader of my Briefings a very happy, safe and healthy Christmas.