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News Commentary: Banned From Shopping by the Mask Law?

January 13, 2021.

Kevan James.

The UK government’s latest lockdown, accompanied by more unremitting doom from the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has led to a new furore over major supermarket chains publicly announcing that they would be actively enforcing the law over face coverings. Conversely, up to now at least, most shops and stores have taken a relatively relaxed attitude towards customers not using them.

There have been some exceptions to this, a few isolated incidents here and there – comparatively speaking - in the period following the introduction of the ‘mask law’ however. These were not really a surprise given the somewhat confusing introduction of the law by the government.

Such confusion arose firstly due to over-enthusiastic security staff at store entrances interpreting at face value what had been published and broadcast on the subject of mandatory face coverings. The publicity had been emphasising that faces, meaning noses and mouths, must be covered by ‘something’, anything would do, and at all times inside every shop, store, bus, on trains, at railway stations and airports. And it was limited to just that – wear a face covering. Nothing else, just wear a face covering. The same message was posted on and in those same shops, stores and buses, on trains and everywhere else, again to the exclusion of stating anything otherwise.

This emphasis led to immediate conflict (as I predicted at the time elsewhere on the pages of KJM Today) between store staff, customers generally and, significantly, those who were medically exempt from wearing a face covering. Yet from the very start, a number of people were indeed made exempt from face coverings and for a number of quite valid reasons. But this was not communicated at all – at least to begin with. Following those conflicts, as isolated as they were (again, comparatively speaking), the signage began to change. The word’s ‘Unless Exempt’ were either added or made more prominent. So why weren’t they to start with? Or were they?

In fact, a document from the Cabinet Office did make clear to the major chains that exemptions were applicable. This is why most major stores did not make any strenuous efforts to enforce the mask law (with those exceptions already mentioned). The document was not made widely available but could in fact, be found online – if one hunted for it. What however, is still available on the government’s website otherwise, are those exemptions and this is where most people have been able to get their information from.