I know that the Government is following scientific guidance to ensure that steps are taken to ensure that people are able to go about their business as safely as possible.
New rules about face coverings do not mean people should wear surgical masks or respirators (which need to be kept available for those who need to wear them at work). Instead, people should wear the kind of face covering that can easily be made at home. Face coverings should cover the mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably, and can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head to give a snug fit. Indeed, the Government has published advice for people on how to make their own face coverings at home.
Some people will be exempt from needing to wear a face covering, for example children under the age of 11. Moreover, some people will have a reasonable excuse not to wear one. This would apply, for instance, to a person who has a disability or a physical or mental illness or impairment which means they cannot wear a face covering. The full list of exemptions and reasonable excuses can be found at the following link:
The Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in all enclosed spaces where you are likely to come into contact with people outside your household: this will include places like cinemas.
‘Risks' of face coverings
I know that some people expressed concern about rumoured health risks of wearing a face covering. However, let me be clear that these claims are false and unsubstantiated. For example, hypoxia, or deprivation of oxygen, is not caused by the breathable materials recommended for face coverings, nor by the prolonged use of medical masks when properly worn in line with recommendations for the product. There is absolutely no evidence that face coverings cause hypercapnia, or too much carbon dioxide in the blood, unless they are entirely air tight: carbon dioxide molecules that you breathe out exit through and around the types of face coverings that are commonly worn. Further, there is no evidence at all to support the claim that face coverings can suppress the body's immune system - they may stop germs getting into your mouth or nose so that the immune system does not have to kick in, but this is not the same as it being suppressed. I believe it is extremely irresponsible for people to promote these myths in any forum, particularly on social media where they have been widely shared, when there is an increasing body of evidence to show that face coverings can reduce the spread of coronavirus and as such can save lives.
I agree that it is vital to balance the need to restrict the spread of the virus without infringing on civil liberties, while allowing the restoration of economic and social life. My colleagues in Government have made a judgement that the best way to balance these things is to enable people to go out and about, and to see and socialise with friends and family, but to require that, if they choose to do so, they take additional measures to restrict the spread of this virus by wearing face coverings in certain situations. It is vital that we do all that we can to protect a second wave of Covid-19. I know that the Government is keeping all guidelines under constant review to ensure that any restrictions in place are worthwhile measures in the fight against coronavirus, and I urge my constituents to comply with these measures.
Not providing proof of exemption
It is important to be sensitive to the needs and experiences of those who have a reasonable excuse not to wear a mask. This is why people with a reasonable excuse should not be routinely asked to give written evidence of their exemption. While I understand that the science in this area has evolved during the outbreak, the body of scientific evidence that has built up shows that the risk of transmission is made lower by wearing a face covering.
Face coverings in public
Face coverings are not mandatory in public other than in certain situations, like on public transport, in NHS settings and, since 8 August, in all enclosed spaces where you are likely to come into contact with people outside your household. You are not required to wear a face covering at all times that you are in public, such as in parks or exercising.
Since 24 July 2020, it has been mandatory to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England. This move will help give shoppers more confidence to shop safely while also enhancing protection. I know the British Retail Consortium has said that social distancing measures and face coverings can make shoppers feel more confident to return to the high street. Sadly sales assistants, cashiers and security guards have suffered disproportionately in this crisis. I understand that the death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher among men, and 60 per cent higher among women than in the general population and therefore I am pleased that action is being taken to mitigate risk and keep our shopkeepers and retail staff safe. Under the new rules, should an individual refuse to wear a face covering they could face a fine of up to £100. Likewise, children under 11 and those with certain disabilities are also exempt.
Shops and Supermarket Staff
In accordance with Government guidance, face coverings are not required for employees in indoor settings where face coverings are mandatory for members of the public, such as in shops and supermarkets. This also applies to banks, building societies and post office staff. Employees should continue to follow safety guidance from their employer based on a workplace health and safety assessment. In shops and supermarkets, screens or visors may be used, or when a staff member is not in close proximity to people they do not normally meet, and therefore it will not be necessary for staff to wear a face covering.
Workers in restaurants
It is not mandatory for workers in pubs, restaurants or takeaways to wear face coverings where they are not part of usual health and safety measures. However, businesses should consider recommending their use where other mitigations are not in place, for example screens or visors, and where it does not hinder workers, for example, speaking to or supporting customers. Where businesses recommend the use of face coverings, they must be used safely, and in a way that is mindful that the wearing of a face covering may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Public Transport
It is now mandatory to wear a face covering when travelling in England, for example on a bus, train, coach, tram, ferry, hovercraft, aircraft or cable car. Face coverings should also be worn in other enclosed spaces where maintaining social distancing is difficult, such as in taxis and private hire vehicles and at stations and airports. Transport operators can stop those who are not wearing a face covering, but who should be wearing one, from travelling. The British Transport Police and Transport for London enforcement officers are also assisting with enforcement, and passengers who do not comply with the face covering rules could be fined £100, or £50 if paid within 14 days.
Each hairdresser has responsibility for implementing their own safety measures, in accordance with Covid-19 Secure guidelines. While wearing a face covering in hairdressers is not mandatory, individuals are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces.
I agree that it is vital to ensure that patients who are deaf or hard of hearing are not isolated from care through face coverings preventing them from lip reading, particularly children who may not feel confident asking someone they have not heard correctly to repeat themselves. That is why I am glad that a coalition of charities, including the National Deaf Children's Society, Action on Hearing Loss and the Royal Association of Deaf People have joined forces to issue guidance on how to speak with a face mask. These tips are:
1. Write phrases down
2. Use a text to speak app
3. Conduct conversations over video call, where there is no need to wear a mask
4. Try to use a clear face mask or visor
5. Find a quiet place to talk
I would be happy to promote this guidance at all levels, and will work with my colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that NHS Staff are able to protect themselves and others from the virus without restricting communication for those who are hard of hearing or deaf. I welcome that Government public transport guidance states that if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate, you are exempted from the requirement to wear a face mask.
I hope that these measures will help restore confidence and also add further protection to enable people to go about their daily business. However, it is important to keep in mind that this measure is in addition to the existing safety measures, including regular hand washing and observing social distancing.