In England, face coverings must now be worn in the majority of public settings, including on public transport, in shopping centres, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, and places of worship.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has called for face coverings to be worn everywhere outside the home in London, as coronavirus case numbers rise and 6,485 people have died in the last seven days.
On 12 January, the big four supermarkets followed requests by the government to get tougher on those not wearing masks, and have all said they will refuse entry to those who cannot prove they are medically exempt and refuse to comply.
Read more: UK lockdown rules explained
But there are some circumstances in which people may not be able to wear a face covering and are therefore exempt from the rules.
Here’s everything you need to know about who is and is not exempt from wearing a face covering and whether or not those exempt receive an exemption card.
Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?
The government has asked that people be mindful and respectful of such circumstances, and keep in mind that some people are less able to wear face coverings, and that the reasons for this may not be visible to others.
Those who do not have to wear face coverings include:
- Children under the age of 11 (Public Health England does not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3 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 putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
- If you 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 ‒ including if it would negatively impact on your ability to exercise or participate in a strenuous activity
- Police officers and other emergency workers, given that this may interfere with their ability to serve the public
What is an exemption card?
A face covering exemption card is a piece of paper explaining the reasons why someone is unable to wear a face covering. It could come in the form of a badge, card, or a home-made sign.
The government advice on exemption cards, last updated in December, says: “If you have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering: you do not routinely need to show any written evidence of this, you do not need show an exemption card.
“This means that you do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering," it says. “Carrying an exemption card or badge is a personal choice and is not required by law.”
However it acknowledges that some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not need to wear a covering. And as more supermarkets crack down on shoppers, it could be useful.
The government recommends a “card, badge or even a home-made sign" and provides a template for people looking for such an item. These templates simply bear the words “I am exempt from wearing a face covering”.
If you use assistive technology (such as a screen reader) and need a different version of these templates you can email email@example.com.
In Scotland, you can apply for an official exemption card.
You can request a face covering exemption card on 0800 121 6240 or through the exemption card website.
A number of organisations have created cards that can be downloaded and printed, including the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales.
But carrying an exemption card is a personal choice and not necessary in law.
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.
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