Stuart Farr reveals the rules and regulations behind the latest anti-Covid measure: face masks, and discusses their implications for the trade.

© Pixabay: afreedpatan

I understand how many of you must be feeling at the present time. Yes, I agree, it does seem entirely counter-intuitive to require people entering your premises to wear a mask.

It potentially compromises your (very expensive) security systems and safety measures, and even, in some cases, puts people slightly on edge. Clearly some of you have struggled and tried to make a stand over the issue. 

The sign pictured in this article is one light-hearted example of what some retailers have resorted to when the lockdown eased and allowed non-essential shops to open and before the wearing of face coverings was made compulsory.

Social distancing, avoiding crowded places, hand sanitising and so forth all remain as important now as when we were confined to our homes. I am afraid that insisting on people ‘permanently’ removing their face coverings is only going to invite criticism, or perhaps even formal action. 

As with all things Covid-related, the so-called ‘rules’ are in a continual state of flux, and have been subject to regular change. The main problem, however, has been misunderstanding generated by conflicting messages and coverage, so what follows is a summary of the current position (as at the end of August).

Please note that differing restrictions may apply in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so members of the industry in those areas should check their localised requirements.

In England, by law, you must now wear a face covering in the following scenarios:

  • On public transport.
  • At indoor transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals).
  • In shops and supermarkets (places that are open to the public, and that wholly or mainly offer goods or services for retail sale or hire).
  • Inside indoor shopping centres; and
  • At banks, building societies, and post offices (including credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses).
  • Additionally, from 8 August, face coverings are required to be worn in a raft of additional places where the public can congregate including, for example, social clubs, storage and distribution facilities, veterinary services and auction houses.
  • The face covering must be worn immediately before entering any of the above places, and must kept on until you leave. In other settings, the government is strongly encouraging (though not obliging in law) the public to wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing may be difficult and where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet. In NHS, medical or other care settings, face coverings are, again, strongly advised, but in those scenarios there may be particular requirements that first need to be checked and observed.

Where face coverings are required, shops and other retail premises are encouraged to take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law, and could refuse entry to anyone who does not have a valid exemption.

In other words, putting up signs saying entry is prohibited if you are wearing a face mask is being actively discouraged. In law, these requirements to promote the wearing of face coverings, while not obligatory per se, nonetheless go toward generating a legal duty of care on those with retail premises open for business.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Young children under the age of 11.
  • Not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.
  • If putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress.
  • If you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate.
  • To avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others.
  • To avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you.
  • To eat or drink if reasonably necessary.
  • In order to take medication.
  • If a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering.

There is a lot of debate going on around these exceptions, and I have already witnessed several people who have strode into retail premises without a face covering supposedly alleging to be ‘exempt’.

Exemption certificates are not required by law, although they can be obtained. That said, the government is actively discouraging patients from contacting their GP surgeries for these because of the high demand it will create to produce exemption letters.

Importantly, you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked in the following scenarios:

  • In a bank, building society or post office for identification.
  • If asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification. Also for the purpose of assessing health recommendations (eg a pharmacist), or for age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products. (This would clearly include knives, firearms or ammunition).
  • If speaking with someone who relies on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication.

Somewhat ironically, it is not compulsory for workers in indoor premises to wear face coverings, although there are other guidelines in place for employers to follow with regard to protection of employees generally.

In short, for those of you in the gun trade who need to undertake face-to-face transactions with members of the public, it is permissible for you to ask people and customers to remove face coverings for identification purposes—whether it is to check a firearms certificate or confirm the identity or age of someone who wishes to buy an age-restricted product such as a knife, guns (or their components), or ammunition. 

A genuine sign as seen in the window of a high-street gun shop. Thanks to Pete Carr for sending it in

In the case of other shooting-related items such as clothing, cleaning equipment and similar sundries, you do not have the right to insist on someone removing their face covering.

However, many security measures do involve a CCTV camera being positioned at the main entrance, and so the ability to capture an image of a person wishing to enter the premises should, in many cases, be possible.

If the process is managed and a face mask is not fitted until immediately before entry to the premises is granted by gun shop staff, the issue should be capable of being resolved.

Sadly, there is precious little advice being offered presently by the various police firearms department, who are no doubt leaving the registered firearms dealers to ‘get on with it’ and expecting them to ensure compliance with their numerous regulatory obligations as well as the rules on dealing with Covid-19.

The same can largely be said for the shooting organisations, who presently have their hands full with wider issues (Packham, in particular as well as other significant issues regarding shooting sustainability and, dare I say it, overall survival of the industry in these difficult times). 

The practical issue to consider is that second waves are popping up around the country already, and any one or more retailers might need to face the imposition of lockdown restrictions once again, especially as the autumn and winter periods loom ahead.

The road ahead is a long one, so please be sensible and make hay while the sun is shining. I suggest implementing measures that will help you to adjust quickly and effectively if a lockdown were to happen again in your area.  

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