Face Masks

I want to give you my thoughts on this latest measure and the reasoning for why it has been put in place. We will find it unusual seeing everyone walking around in a face mask in the local high street on a Saturday morning! I have been wearing a mask every day since my return to Westminster on trains and it has become very normalised now for people to wear them in public spaces.

It is important we all continue to play our part in controlling the virus and avoiding a further peak as the lockdown eases. People can help to control coronavirus and travel safely by, for example, working from home, staying local to shop, and exploring all other forms of transport, such as cycling, walking or driving, before deciding to use public transport.

You may be aware that the people who kept our nation running and fed during the pandemic – shop assistants, cashiers and security guards – have suffered disproportionately from Covid-19. The death rate of retail and sales assistants is 75% higher among men and 60% higher among women than in the general population! By wearing a mask for the brief period while we are in the shop, we are protecting this vulnerable group who have played such a key role in keeping this country going, as well as their families – this is unquestionably the right thing to do. If you choose to avoid shopping in order to not have to wear a mask, then this will also be protecting this group from potentially being infected.

I believe it's important that whilst we can start doing the things we love, whether it’s eating out with friends, going to the salon, or going shopping, we have to remember to do so safely, following the latest guidelines. Whilst it may be tempting to not follow the latest measures, with the infection rates continuing to decline at a steady rate and with the beautiful summer weather we are so lucky to get in Mid-Sussex, we have to remember what this virus can do if we allow it to spread between us. We have a duty to look to protect those who are most vulnerable in our society, whether they are loved ones, friends, neighbours, or people we don't know. This is why it is vital we follow this latest step by the Government to make wearing face coverings/masks mandatory in shops and stores. As we know more about the virus the guidelines will continue to change and develop – we must all be aware and understand this.

Currently in England, you must by law wear a face covering on public transport as well as in shops and supermarkets as of 24th July 2020. People will face fines if they do not comply with this law. Transport operators can deny service or direct someone to wear a face covering and if necessary, the police and Transport for London authorised officers can issue fines of £100 (halving to £50 if paid within 14 days). Shops and supermarkets will be expected to encourage compliance with the law (as they would do more generally) and can refuse entry. In both cases, if necessary, the police have the powers to enforce these measures, including through issuing a fine of £100 (halving to £50 if paid within 14 days).

In settings where face coverings are mandated in England, there are some circumstances, whether it be health, age, condition etc, whereby people are not expected to wear face coverings in these settings. I would urge everyone in Mid-Sussex to please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances noting some people are less able to wear face coverings. You can find your face mask exemption card here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock MP, has reiterated at the Despatch Box in the House of Commons this week that, whilst face coverings do help prevent the spread of the virus, social distancing and hand-washing are most effective protection for physical contact with people over long periods of time. He went on to state that the Government “want to give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops” and that “there is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop.”

The British Retail Consortium have also said that, together with other social distancing measures, face coverings can make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the high street.

In the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, a face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings. You may also use, if preferred, a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face.

As I said, wearing face coverings are largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection (COVID-19) and reduces droplets.

Those using public transport must wear a face covering. The guidance on this can be found as follows: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers#stay-alert

 Health Secretary’s full statement: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/face-coverings-to-be-mandatory-in-shops-and-supermarkets-from-24-july