LONDON: Face coverings are now a legal requirement across most indoor settings in England and Scotland from Saturday as part of the UK government’s efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Under the new rules, face masks or some form of face covering must now be worn in cinemas, museums, places of worship and aquariums besides public transport and shops and supermarkets, where it was already mandatory.
In Scotland, the rule also covers banks and beauty salons and in the devolved administration of Northern Ireland face coverings in all enclosed public spaces will become compulsory from Monday.
Those who break the law on wearing face coverings, unless exempt on certain narrow health and age grounds, could be fined up to 100 pounds, with greater police presence in place to ensure the rules were being followed.
The move comes as the government extended localised lockdowns in northern England and added the city of Preston in Lancashire within the remit of stricter measures, as the spread of the deadly coronavirus failed to show a decrease in the number of cases per 100,000 people in the region.
“I chaired a meeting of the Local Action Gold Committee, and unfortunately, the data does not yet show a decrease in the transmission of this terrible virus,” said UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“It means we must keep the current restrictions in place to allow more time for the impact of this ban on indoor gatherings to be felt, and make sure local residents and their loved ones are protected. At the request of the local area we are also extending these restrictions to Preston,” he said.
The minister said the data on the prevalence of the virus in these areas will be constantly examined and a review of the localised lockdown measures will take place next week.
“As we continue to see rising rates of the virus across Europe, it is vital we take every precaution to protect our country. I urge everyone in these areas to follow the rules, get yourself a free test as soon as you get any symptoms, and isolate if NHS Test and Trace tells you to,” he said.
The move follows the UK gradually easing out of the coronavirus lockdown in phases since last month, using the National Health Service (NHS) run Test and Trace system to track infections.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had applied the brakes to the next level of nationwide easing at the end of July which meant that gyms, salons and cinemas have been allowed to reopen, but many other activities such as bowling alleys and ice rinks remain closed.
The brakes also applied to any indoor performances, pilot schemes of larger gatherings in sports venues and conference centres, and wedding receptions of up to 30 people at least until the middle of August.
New quarantine rules for travellers to the UK are also in place for certain countries seen as higher risk. Anyone now arriving in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland from Belgium, Andorra and the Bahamas will have to quarantine for two weeks. The same rules have already been in place in Wales.
Quarantines were earlier imposed for passengers from Spain and Luxembourg and the government has said that it would not hesitate to add to the list of risky countries based on data on the deadly virus from Europe and beyond.
Meanwhile, statisticians believe the community spread of COVID-19 in England may be levelling off as some lockdown measures are relaxed.
The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) households survey shows that from July 27 to August 2 about one in 1,900 individuals had COVID-19, with 3,700 new cases per day.
The figures are lower than in the previous week (July 20-26), when about one in 1,500 individuals were thought to have COVID-19, with 4,200 new cases a day. But they remain higher than 13-19 July when one in 2,000 individuals were thought to be infected, with 2,800 new infections a day.
“Modelling shows rates of people testing positive for COVID-19 have risen since the lowest recorded estimate, which was at the end of June, but there is evidence that this trend may be levelling off when compared with last week’s headline estimate,” the ONS said.