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Facing up to the new cover-up

Cllr Khaled Noor

THE PRIME MINISTER has done another flip-flop and face coverings, which he once said were not proven to restrict the spread of Coronavirus, are now compulsory, for most people, in most enclosed public spaces in England.

The new rules came into force on Friday, 24th July.  They are set out in full in a Statutory Instrument known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020. Here’s a quick summary of the main points.

What is a face covering?
The Regulations do not set out any detail of what an acceptable “face covering” is. They define it as any type of covering, as long as it covers your mouth and nose.

Who has to wear them?
Everyone has to wear a face covering except:
children under the age of 11;
someone who is managing or working in the enclosed space;
police constables or police community support officers or emergency responders while they are on duty;
a relevant official (that’s people like Council officers and various safety and regulatory inspectors), while they are on duty;
someone who is inside a vehicle which is inside a transport hub (such as a railway station) and who is not offering to transport the public.

Where must they be worn?
Most people would probably share an understanding of what “enclosed premises” are: premises which have a roof and walls and at least one door.  The Face Covering Regulations do not set out a new legal definition for “enclosed premises”. They say that they will use the same definition as the regulations which prohibit smoking in enclosed public premises.

The Regulations do not apply to places where the main activity is eating and drinking: restaurants and bars and public houses.  They do apply to shops, banks (and similar outlets), and post offices.  They also apply to shopping centres (except any spaces in them which are open for eating and drinking).  There’s a list of 20 types of enclosed public space where the Regulations do not apply, including various places where the main activity is entertainment, exercise or certain medical treatments. (These include premises offering legal services – but it is not clear whether the Government sees legal services as entertainment or exercise!)

What is a “reasonable excuse”?
You are allowed not to wear a face covering if you have a “reasonable excuse” – but what is an acceptable “reasonable excuse” is quite tightly defined.  Acceptable “reasonable excuses” include:
people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of physical or mental illness, impairment or disability or who cannot do so without severe distress;
anyone who is assisting someone who is communicating with the helper by lip-reading what the helper is saying;
anyone who enters an enclosed public space to avoid danger and does not have a face covering with them;
anyone who is eating or drinking or taking medication;
anyone who is asked by someone in charge of the premises to remove their face covering – for example, so that the person in charge can verify their identity;
anyone in a pharmacy receiving healthcare that cannot be given to someone wearing a face covering.

Who has to enforce the regulations?
The person in charge of an enclosed public space where face coverings must be worn is required to ask anyone not wearing a face covering to put one on or leave the premises. Such persons in charge can also ask anyone who is looking after a child (over eleven years old) to ensure the child is wearing a face covering.  The person in charge can be the owner of the concern or anyone managing or in charge of that place on behalf of the actual owner.

If a police constable directs someone to wear a face covering or leave the premises and that person does not do so, the constable may remove them from the premises, using reasonable force if necessary.

What is the penalty for not wearing a face covering?
If you are not wearing a face covering in a place where you should be wearing one (unless you have a reasonable excuse, as set out above), you commit an offence.  It is also an offence to obstruct someone who is trying to enforce the Regulations. Committing an offence under these Regulations leaves you liable to pay a fine. Police officers and Police Community Support Officers can give you a Fixed Penalty Notice to pay a fine of £100.  The fine must be paid within 28 days and it will be reduced to £50 if you pay within 14 days.  If you are not given a Fixed Penalty Notice, or if you do not pay it within the time limit of 28 days, the Crown Prosecution Service can prosecute you and take you to Court.

Is this going to be the law for ever?
These Regulations will last for twelve months and they must be reviewed within six months.

We cannot tell in advance whether the Regulations will be observed but they are more likely to hinder than help the spread of Coronavirus. Unbelievably there is a small group of extremists campaigning for people to ignore them, because they say that measures such as making face coverings compulsory infringes their human rights. Do people have a human right to increase their risk of becoming infected (and needing medical care)? Do people have a human right to increase the risk that they will infect other members of the public?  No: in a civilised society, these are not human rights.  Put your face coverings on, stay safe and protect the NHS.

Cllr Khaled Noor is also a lawyer by profession and he is the Principal of Blackstones Solicitors, New Road, East London. Every effort has been made to ensure that the above is a fair summary of the Regulations, but anyone who needs more detailed information is advised to consult the full Regulations.

Read the full Regulations here:

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