What are the medical exemptions for wearing masks in supermarkets?

Rebecca Speare-Cole

Watch: Supermarkets clamp down on mask rules

Britons do not have to wear a face mask in supermarkets and other public spaces if they have a medical exemption.

Major UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Waitrose, have all announced that they will ban shoppers who refuse to wear face coverings.

It comes after vaccines minister Kit Malthouse said on Tuesday there were concerns about behaviour in stores and that supermarkets should not allow those without masks to enter.

He also said supermarkets should return to limiting numbers inside their stores to halt the spread of the virus.

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What you can and can't do under current lockdown rules

Under current regulations, face coverings must be worn in England in all supermarkets as well as shops, public transport, estate agents, post offices and banks.

If open according to the tier system, pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and public areas of hotels and hostels are also places where face masks need to be worn.

A shopper wears a face mask at a supermarket in London, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A shopper wears a face mask at a supermarket during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. (AP)

The government brought in the measure after evidence found that they can reduce the spread of coronavirus from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

They mainly help protect other people from COVID-19 rather than the wearer themselves.

In England, the police can issue a £200 fine to someone breaking the face-covering rules. In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, a £60 fine can be imposed. Meanwhile, repeat offenders face bigger fines.

But there are also a set of reasons relating to age, health or disability that can make a person exempt from wearing masks.

These people can carry a card, badge or even a home-made sign to show anyone who asks them why they are exempt.

Watch: COVID-19: The excuses people have been giving for breaking lockdown

But the government makes it clear that carrying an exemption card is a personal choice and is not required by law.

The exemptions for wearing masks in supermarkets and other public spaces are:

  • Children under the age of 11

  • People who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability

  • Where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress

  • If you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip-reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate

  • To avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others – including if it would negatively impact on your ability to exercise or participate in a strenuous activity

  • Police officers and other emergency workers, given that this may interfere with their ability to serve the public

There are also scenarios when people are permitted to remove a face covering.

These include when a shop staff asks for identification, needs to assess health recommendations or for age identification purposes.

People can also remove their face mask to take medication or receive treatment.