Supermarkets across England have clamped down on shoppers this week, sparking tension among the government and police.
Tesco, Morrisons, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Aldi have all now confirmed that they will deny entry to customers who do not wear face masks, unless they are medically exempt.
Several have even announced that security guards will challenge those who flout the rules.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has welcomed the move, saying: “That’s the right approach, and I want to see all parts of society playing their part in this. Stronger enforcement is necessary, and I’m delighted that the police are stepping up their enforcement.”
Enter your postcode for the latest on coronavirus cases in your area:
However, the tougher stance has raised questions over what can actually be done to enforce the use of masks, who has responsibility for enforcement and whether exempt shoppers need to show medical evidence, reports BristolPost.
Can the police fine you for not wearing a mask in a shop?
Government coronavirus guidance says stores should take “reasonable steps” to promote compliance with the law on masks, which applies unless you have a medical exemption.
If that fails, then the police can take action. The Government says police powers include issuing £200 fines for a first offence – reduced to £100 if paid within two weeks.
After the first offence, there is no discount. A second fine amounts to £400 and a third £800, and so on up to a maximum of £6,400.
The Guardian says it understands Morrisons “is prepared to call in police as a last resort if customers do not comply”.
How do police know if you have an exemption?
This is where it gets tricky for authorities – shoppers do not need to carry any proof of their exemption when they are in a store without a mask.
Government guidance 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 and you do not need to 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.
“However, some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.
Sign up for our free What’s On newsletter
How we spend our free time has changed massively, but there is still plenty you can see and do.
We’ll have the best options in our regular what’s on newsletter, packed with the latest news, shopping tips and fantastic deals.
How do I sign up?
It’s free, easy and takes no time at all.
- First just click on this link to our newsletter sign-up centre.
- Once you’re there, put your email address where it says at the top, then click on the Echo What’s On button. There are other newsletters available too if you want them as well.
- When you’ve made your choice, press the Save Changes button at the bottom.
“Carrying an exemption card or badge is a personal choice and is not required by law.”
There are no checks in place when it comes to downloading an exemption card template from the Government website. The authorities are, in effect, trusting people to be honest.
This leaves police in a difficult position because shoppers not wearing masks are under no obligation to show evidence that they have an exemption.
The guidance suggests the only realistic basis for police to issue a fine is if the customer admits they have no exemption and refuses to leave.