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What does the law say about face masks?

From the 15th June 2020, it’s now mandatory in England to wear face coverings on public transport such as bus, train, ferries and planes apart from children under 11 years old. The law states that “no person may, without reasonable excuse, use a public transport service without wearing a face covering”. Face coverings don’t necessarily have to be a surgical mask unless you’re a health worker and work directly with patients.

Previously, the government advised people to wear face coverings in situations where keeping a two-metre distance wasn’t possible. The government has also urged the public not to buy surgical masks to ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and supplies for healthcare workers. The change in law came from the international agency responsible for global health responses, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice. The WHO previously indicated that there was little evidence to suggest wearing masks will reduce the rate of spreading. As it stands, they have changed the guidance to advise the usage of basic medical masks to be worn for over 60s and face coverings for the general public when social distancing is difficult.

Meanwhile, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the government is still advising people to wear masks as much as possible, especially when social distancing isn’t possible. The Scottish government is urging people to limit travelling and may consider making wearing masks mandatory. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, continues to encourage the use of face covering to reduce the rate of transmission. In Wales, the government recommends a three-layer face covering when social distancing is challenging, also following the WHO’s advice. Across the UK, the popular transport company, Uber, has made it mandatory for both drivers and passengers to wear face covers during trips.

Is it compulsory to wear masks in other countries?

In Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, wearing masks are common for civilians due to air pollution and previous viral outbreaks such as SARS and H1N1. 

Venezuela in South America was one of the first countries in March to enforce wearing masks in public spaces.

On 18 March, Czech Republic became the first European country to make wearing face masks compulsory in supermarkets, pharmacies and public transport.

On April 9, Cameroon imposed masks for people leaving their homes. Several African countries soon followed Cameroon such as Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. 

As it stands, more than 50 countries around the globe have made it a necessity for people to wear a mask once they leave their homes.

Advice on wearing face coverings

How not to wear a mask

It’s important to note that while face coverings do lower the chance of infection, they don’t substitute social distancing or washing hands regularly. Furthermore, face coverings are for the benefit of the general public, and evidence reveals that face coverings can’t protect you from catching COVID-19. So an essential tip is to wash your hands or sanitise before or after you remove your face coverings, to avoid contamination, especially after being in a public setting.

By Zigwai Akut

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