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The government is set to confirm today that face coverings will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets from the 24th of July in England, with police having the power to potentially fine people up to £100 for breaking the new rules.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus and the following lockdown measures, the policy surrounding face coverings has been controversial.

For many countries, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, coverings are already mandatory in shops – with Germany introducing the measures back in April.

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Scotland also followed suit following the end of its retail lockdown, with face coverings being made a compulsory requirement in shops from the 10th July – the first country in the UK to introduce a legal face coverings requirement.

In England, however, the opinion regarding the effectiveness of face coverings has continuously shifted throughout the pandemic.

In April, the World Health Organisations first recommended the use of face masks in public as a means of preventing transmission as COVID-19 spread across the world.

At the time, the British Government contended that the science did not support the notion that the mandatory use of coverings would have a significant impact in curbing the outbreak.

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, warned a compulsory use of face masks could increase PPE shortages and lull the public into a false sense of security and diminish the importance of other measures, such as social distancing.

In May, after the prime minister’s address to the nation, the government’s approach began to change as new guidance was released encouraging people to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, including shops. The guidance, however, stopped short of mandating people.

In June, the stance on face coverings in England became more stringent as the government imposed compulsory use on public transport from the 15th of June, coinciding with the reopening of retail shops as lockdown measures were further eased. Again, people were advised to wear face coverings in smaller shops but were not legally required to do so.

Now, the government is expected to announce today that coverings will legally have to be worn by shoppers. Failure to comply will result in a £100 fine – reduced to £50 if paid within 14 days, according to the BBC.

Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will continue to be exempt from the new rule. Earlier this month, charity Euan’s Guide released ‘face mask exempt’ badges for disabled people to quickly communicate that they are exempt for wearing face masks.

Speaking on the BBC, Environment Secretary George Eustice highlighted that the new mandatory rule for face coverings in shops will not apply to retail staff.

The BBC has also reported that shop workers will be encouraged to highlight the rule to customers but will not be required to enforce it. It will be the responsibility of the police to enforce and issue fines.

Further guidance surrounding the measure is expected today but it is understood that the compulsory face coverings requirements will not apply to pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes.

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