New face covering rules — face masks in London, in hospitals and where else?

While the wearing of face masks has not been compulsory in England since Plan B measures came to an end on January 27 2021, as of Thursday 24 February, it is no longer mandatory to wear them on TFL services in London either.

Following the Government’s announcement of its ‘living with Covid’ plan on Monday 21 February, rules are now relaxed, meaning masks will only be ‘strongly recommended’ from Feb 24.

Previously, Sadiq Khan had continued to make face masks a requirement on the London Underground and other TFL services.

Face masks have also not been mandatory in shops since the end of Plan B in England and after Boris Johnson revealing the Government’s Strategy, the stance on face masks remains the same – that there is no legal obligation to wear them in England.

Instead, it is up to individual companies and the public as to whether they wear a face mask – meaning that shops, theatres and other indoor venues may still request that customers wear a face covering.

The government guidelines advise people to still wear a face mask when in crowded places or if they are ill.

Confused about how the new rules apply to wearing face coverings? We have the answers below. 

Where do I still have to wear a face mask?

England

Face masks are no longer compulsory anywhere in England. The Government announced its new strategy on Monday 21 February, leaving it up to individual businesses and people themselves to decide if they want to wear a face covering or not.

While masks will no longer be legally mandatory, individuals might find that certain companies, theatres and shops still request that their employees and customers still wear a covering.

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, had previously said extended mandatory mask wearing on TFL services in the capital, however as of Thursday 24 February, this no longer a requirement either.

Several schools ignored Boris Johnson’s announcement for the scrapping of face masks in schools – although the Education Secretary warned the Department of Education that resistant schools would be contacted by officials.

Scotland

Although Scotland did not remove restrictions within the same timeline as Boris Johnson announced for England, Nicola Sturgeon has now confirmed that all legal restrictions regarding Covid will be removed on March 21. This would include the mandatory wearing of face masks on public transport and in indoor venues.

The implementation of a vaccine passport scheme for nightclubs and large events is set to be scrapped on Monday 28 February, with Scotland’s First Minister keen to see Scotland move away from legal restrictions and rely instead on vaccines, treatments and “good public health behaviours”.

Wales

According to the Welsh Government website, it remains a legal requirement to wear a face covering in most indoor public places.

Although this does not extend to hospitality venues which serve food and drink, the Welsh Government advises that individuals should still consider wearing one in these indoor places.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the use of face coverings is strongly recommended in all indoor settings – however it is not a legal requirement.

The same recommendation and individual choice applies to health and social care settings, as well as public and school transport.

Face masks in hospitals

A government source told the Telegraph that the decision surrounding face masks and other Covid guidance in hospitals would be for the health service and local trusts to make.

Individuals need to go onto the specific hospital’s website or phone the facility to find out if face masks are compulsory when arriving on the premises.

Face masks on planes

The rule of wearing a face mask before embarking a public plane remains – with Ryanair finance chief suspecting it to stay as a legal requirement for “a while longer to come”.

Currently, in the UK, vaccinated travellers are no longer required to take pre-departure or day two tests when travelling back to the country. However, this remains mandatory for those who are unjabbed.

All travellers, regardless of vaccination status, will have to fill in passenger locator forms when entering the UK.

Rules regarding testing and forms when entering other countries still need to be checked against the individual destination’s government website.

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask? 

The official government web page for masks still states the following groups are exempt from wearing a mask: 

  • children under the age of 11 (Public Health England does not recommend face coverings for children under the age of three, for health and safety reasons)
  • people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • where the putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress
  • instances where people are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • police officers and other emergency workers – this may interfere with their ability to serve the public

This article is kept updated with the latest advice and information.

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