With face masks set to become mandatory in shops and other enclosed public spaces in Northern Ireland on Monday we give the rundown on everything you need to know.
Q: What do the rules say?
A: From Monday, the use of face coverings in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres, will be mandatory. You must also wear a face covering on public transport.
Q: Will I be fined or punished if I don’t comply?
A: In theory yes, in practice it is highly unlikely. It is unclear who — if anyone — will enforce the new regulations.
The Department of Health said: “The Northern Ireland Executive expects that people who are able to wear a face covering will do so in order to help protect themselves and others but breaches of the requirement could attract a fixed penalty notice of £60 (reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days). The amount of a fixed penalty notice increases if there are further offences.”
But the PSNI has said its officers will not enforce the wearing of masks, but will “engage, explain and encourage people to make the right choices”.
Wearing a face covering has been mandatory on public transport for almost a month, but to date no fines have been issued. It is also unclear if the PSNI has even spoken to anyone about non-compliance.
Retail unions have said their members will not enforce the rule. Major retailers in England and Scotland, where the regulations are already in place, have not challenged shoppers either.
Q: What should I do when I see people not wearing face coverings?
A: Nothing. Official guidance urges shoppers not to challenge anyone who does not cover up. It states: “It is important that we all respect one another and remember that the reasons for not wearing a face covering may not always be visible.”
Q: Who does not have to wear a face mask?
A: Exemptions include if you are under the age of 13, if you are a member of staff or employee of the shop or shopping centre, temporarily if a member of staff or employee or a police officer asks you to remove it to check your identity, if you have a reasonable excuse not to.
Q: What is a reasonable excuse?
A: Guidelines outline a range of circumstances where people may have a ‘reasonable excuse’ not to wear a face covering in a shop or shopping centre, such as if it is distressing or you have a relevant medical condition.
* If you need to seek medical assistance or to provide care to someone who needs assistance, such as a vulnerable person or in an emergency
* If you need to avoid injury, illness or escape from harm
* If you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
* If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
* If you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
* If you need to remove it to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
* If you need to eat, drink, or take medication
* If you are asked to remove your face covering by a police officer or other official.
Q: What if I cannot wear a face covering?
A: There is no need to get a letter from a doctor or the government to show that you do not need to wear a face covering. If you have a condition which means you cannot wear a face covering you only need to say, if asked, that you cannot wear a face covering because you are exempt.
Q: What is a face covering?
Any type which covers your nose and mouth. You should use a reusable, cloth face covering if possible to help protect the environment. Emerging evidence suggests that the risk of transmission may be reduced by using thicker fabrics or multiple layers but it should still be breathable. A vent is not recommended. Masks with valves allow air breathed out to pass unfiltered into the environment, along with potential droplets, defeating the key purpose of protecting those around you.
Q: Why do I need to cover up?
A: Covid-19 usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first. The Department of Health says the best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.
Q: Will a face mask protect me?
A: Official advice states that face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from Covid-19. The Department of Health says they are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing. It warns people not to get a false sense of security about the level of protection they may offer.
Q: Where should I wear a face covering?
A: From Monday, it is mandatory to wear a face covering in “a relevant place”, which the Department of Health defines as generally meaning “a shop or shopping centre”.
It adds: “As well as ordinary day to day shopping for items such as clothes, food or electrical goods, a face covering is required in any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent. This includes, for example, a bookmakers, a food takeaway business or a dry cleaner.”
Q: Where do I not need to wear a face covering?
A: It is not mandatory to wear a face covering in a business that is able to maintain social distancing by using a system of ticketing or appointments. This might include, for example, a cinema, a hairdresser or a solicitor.
You do not have to wear a face covering in a bank or a business that operates like a bank.
Department of Health guidance accepts there are circumstances where it is not possible to wear a face covering.
* Where you are eating or drinking in a restaurant, pub or café.
* If you are a customer of a food takeaway business, or a shop that sells food or drink for immediate consumption, and it provides seating for its customers, you may remove your face covering while eating and drinking at those seats.
* You do not have to wear a face covering in a gym or other place where the purpose of your attendance is aerobic exercise.