The government’s new face mask rules descended further into confusion today as Matt Hancock insisted they must be worn to get takeaway coffee but not in pubs.
The mask rule comes into force in the UK on 24th July and states that face masks must be worn in all shops. But, in a similar vein to some of the governments recent policies, there are many people wondering if it is enforceable and what does the policy actually mean?
Many have noted that the policy does not come into force for another 10 days, so are we safe of COVID until next Friday? Or has the policy been rushed in to co-incide with the school holidays? One person claimed it felt a bit like “putting on a condom at the 12-week scan!”.
The Health Secretary struggled to explain the new system this morning and was prompty met by a rejection from the police, that it is unenforcable. The police have already struggled to monitor the public when the lockdown rules came into force.
Retail managers have also complained that it is not their or their staff’s role to refuse service if the public do not comply. They do not want their staff to be exposed to angry and upset customers, if they refuse service. Mr Hancock said shopkeepers could call the police if customers refused to wear a mask. That’s fine, if the customer wants to happily wait 90 minutes and not thump someone.
One shop keeper, who has just spent a lot of money on his shop, to enforce 2m social distancing said ‘We have been able to keep the 2 metre distance in our stores and have put in hand sanitiser and screens at desks and all seemed to have been going well until this madness with making masks compulsory’.
staff will not be comfortable asking customers to wear a face mask
There was another awkward moment for Matt Hancock today when he was shown pictures of Cabinet colleagues Michael Gove and Liz Truss emerging from the same Pret outlet in London yesterday, the former bare faced while and the latter wearing a mask – Mr Hancock said the rules were not in place yet. So Coronavirus is not as infectious this week as it will be next week??
He also found himself in a muddle as he tried to explain why coffee shops were different from pubs, suggesting that going to the bar is not allowed under current advice. In fact ordering drinks at the bar is permitted where it is ‘unavoidable’. He also denied that face masks will be compulsory in offices.
Meanwhile, official guidance published by the government overnight has raised fresh doubts about how it can be policed. Despite the threat of £100 fines, the document says people can have a ‘legitimate’ excuse for not wearing a face covering if it causes them ‘distress’. Many citizens, such as those with breathing difficulties or with learning disabilities, will carry an exemption letter, should they get stopped. But to anyone passing them in a shop, it will look like they are just refusing to wear a mask.
The government have also listed several reasons why you are exampt from wearing a mask, such as, if ‘putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress’. There is no further definition of what would constitute ‘distress’. Well 99% of the population will be using this exemption from the 24th July.
The regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100, reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days. Why would they offer a discounted fine either? If you break the law, a fine should be a fine. If you do not pay it, you go to court and get a custodial sentence! No wonder people do their own thing these days!
If you need some clarification regarding wearing a mask in a pub or a takeaway outlet, just get your head around this statement from Mr Hancock…
“People would need to wear a face covering in Pret from July 24 because it is a ‘shop’. In hospitality, so in a restaurant, there needs to be table service. If there’s table service, it is not necessary to have a mask. But in any shop, you do need a mask. So, if you’re going up to the counter in Pret to buy takeaway that is a shop. But if you go to your local pub you can’t go to the bar… you can’t go to the bar. The reason there, is the risk of transmission over the bar. Therefore it is table service, and a mask is not needed. Where bar or counter service is unavoidable, you should prevent customers from remaining at the bar or counter after ordering”.
So quite simple then?!! No?
Overall, it seems like we have another case of using 1,000 words, when 10 would do the job. The British public are not stupid, but they want clear and concise instructions. No exemptions, no unexplained definitions, no confusion. We have yet another mess do deal with, whilst across the planet, the makers of face masks in China are celebrating with champagne right about now!!!