Why is wearing face coverings now a legal requirement in shops and other indoor public places from 14 September?
The Welsh Government has previously advised that wearing face coverings can reduce the spread of the coronavirus. However, we did not impose a legal requirement to do so because of the relatively low numbers of cases in Wales. The rising incidence rate of cases in Wales now means we are making it a legal requirement.
Where will face coverings be required?
Face coverings will be required in all indoor public places, for both customers and staff working in those indoor public areas. This includes a very wide range of locations, such as shops and shopping centres, places of worship, hairdressers and salons, cinemas and museums, gyms and leisure centres, and anywhere that is open to members of the public.
It would also include any public areas within buildings that are otherwise closed to the public – for example a reception area of an office building.
The only indoor public areas where face coverings will not be required are where you are inside a place to eat or drink, for example, cafés, restaurants and pubs. But where food and drink is only being served for consumption in part of the premises – for example, a café which also offers take away services – you will need to wear a face covering in the parts of the premises where people are not eating or drinking.
Employers will also be required to mandate the use of face coverings in other indoor workplaces where social distancing cannot be maintained, unless there are strong reasons not to. You may therefore find you are required to wear a face covering at work even in places which are not open to the public.
Schools are not public places, and the decision about whether to require face coverings in secondary schools and in what areas they are worn will be a local decision for the school or setting depending on their assessment of the risk and in context of local circumstances.
Who will the requirement apply to?
The requirement will apply to everyone aged 11 and over – including customers and staff. However, you may have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if (for example):
- you are not able to put on or to wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, or because of a disability or impairment;
- you are accompanying somebody who relies on lip reading where they need to communicate; or
- you are escaping from a threat or danger and don’t have a face covering.
From experience in other countries where face coverings have been required, we know survivors of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence sometimes find that wearing a mask triggers flashbacks to traumatic experiences. If that applies to you then this would also be a good reason not to wear a face covering.
If the requirement applies to me, will I have to keep my face covering on at all times?
In general, yes, but you may have a reasonable excuse to remove a face covering temporarily if (again, for example):
- you need to take medicines;
- you need to eat or drink; or
- you need to remove a face covering to avoid harm or injury, either to yourself or others – for example to get somebody’s attention about a danger.
Whether somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering at any particular moment depends on the individual and the circumstances. This may mean that somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering sometimes but not others. And the reasonable excuse may only be temporary.
For example, when considering whether there is a need to eat or drink while in a place where face coverings are mandatory, any physical conditions and the temperature and humidity may all be relevant. Most people do not need to eat or drink on short trips away from home, but this may be different for somebody who is diabetic, for example, or in in hot weather.
Another example is gyms and leisure centres. As these are indoor public places, you will need to wear a face covering when you go there and you will need to keep it on depending on what you are doing. If you are preparing to exercise, changing or undertaking any activity that isn’t strenuous, especially when in close contact with other people, you will need to wear a face covering.
However, there may be circumstances where the layout of the premises and the nature of the exercise you are doing mean that it would not be reasonable to expect you to wear a face covering. The World Health Organisation advises against wearing a face covering when exercising as sweat can make a face covering become wet more quickly, making it difficult to breathe and promoting the growth of microorganisms. It advises the important preventative measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance from others.
As part of the measures the operator of the gym or leisure centre will need to put in place to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus, they will need to consider when wearing a face covering would not be appropriate and what mitigating action may be needed. They will be expected to give you further information about the systems put in place and what you will be expected to do.
What is a “face covering” and how should it be worn?
To provide any protection to others, face coverings need to be made, worn, handled and disposed of in a certain way. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of three layers in a face covering.
Face coverings must cover the mouth and nose. When putting coverings on, and while they are on, you should only handle the straps, ties or clips. Do not touch the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose. You should also wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before and after removing.
Please see our guide to making a face covering which has three layers (as is recommended by the World Health Organisation).
How can I show that I am not required to wear a face covering?
Whether somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering will not always be obvious. Disabilities and impairments are not always visible to others, and respect and understanding should be shown to those who have good reasons not to wear face coverings.
We advise people to carry information if possible which demonstrates why they have a reasonable excuse (for example a prescription or evidence such as a hospital appointment letter relating to a medical condition). A number of organisations such as transport operators have created cards that can be downloaded from their websites and printed.
How will the requirement be enforced?
The Welsh Government hopes people will understand the reasons for wearing face coverings and will do so. It is vital however the new rules are explained to people and they have an opportunity to comply.
Managers of premises are required to provide information about the legal requirement to those intending to enter. This information may be provided in a variety of ways. Websites should carry specific information on wearing face coverings as part of the conditions of entry and may provide links to other useful websites – for example, showing how to make a face covering and how to wear a face covering properly. Notices advising customers of their legal obligation to wear face coverings should be displayed in a prominent place (in both English and Welsh) whenever feasible.
Managers of premises are also required by Welsh law to take all reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus on their premises. They have a part to play in keeping people safe.
When asked, customers will be given an opportunity to wear a face covering or explain why they have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering. If they are not complying with the law customers may be asked to leave the premises.
However, police or environmental health officers can also issue a fixed penalty for breaches of these requirements. A first offence is punishable by a penalty of £60 (which doubles for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £1,920). Repeat offenders could also be prosecuted in court where there is no limit to the fine that may be issued.
Face coverings and single use plastic
I want or need to use a face covering, but do not want to use a single use one containing plastic. How can I do this?
Disposable single-use face coverings contain plastic. If you are concerned about the environmental impact of using one of these, you can buy or make a washable face covering or mask. The World Health Organisation recommends it should have three layers of close woven material such as cotton.
I only have a single-use face covering. How can dispose of it responsibly?
Remove the face covering carefully – do not touch the front of the face covering or the part of which has been in contact with your mouth and nose.
If you aren’t at home, place your face covering in a litter bin or take it home in a plastic bag and put it in your bin. Do not litter as it can damage the environment.
If you are at home, put it in your household waste bin.
Do not put single use face coverings in the recycling bin as they can’t be recycled.
You do not need to put them in an extra bag or store them for a time before throwing them away.
Please remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser immediately after removing your face covering and throwing it away.
What type of single-use face covering should I use?
Please avoid medical grade masks. These should be reserved for health and care workers.
You may wish to consider buying or making a washable face covering which can be reused many times and will be cheaper and be better for the environment.
How should I care for my reusable face covering?
If you are using a reusable face covering, store it in a plastic bag until you can wash it.
Wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric. You can use your normal detergent and you can wash and dry it with other laundry.
Do not give it to someone else to use.
You must throw away your face covering if it is damaged.
Make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched using normal household cleaning products.
I own a business, how can I help reduce waste from single use face coverings?
- provide extra bins for your staff and customers to throw away single use face coverings, any other PPE and any other additional waste, such as takeaway packaging and disposable tableware
- make sure staff and customers do not put single use face coverings and PPE into the recycling bin as they cannot be recycled in conventional recycling facilities
- make sure bins are emptied often so they do not overflow and create litter
- make your staff aware of this advice in case they have questions about PPE
You do not need to arrange collection of PPE separately but, if you do, you must describe and code your waste correctly.
Ask your waste contractor if there is anything else you need to do.