Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Masks now mandatory in English museums

Geraldine Kendall Adams, Police say onus will be on museums to ensure visitors are wearing face coverings, Museums Association, 5 August 2020

Masks will be mandatory in museums in England from 8 August.

With face coverings set to become mandatory in museums, galleries and indoor heritage sites in England from 8 August, the Metropolitan police have advised the sector that the onus will be on institutions themselves to ensure a high level of compliance with the new regulations.

Police say they will not be actively patrolling museums or other sites to enforce the rules. They are asking individual institutions to provide clear communication to visitors about the requirement to wear face coverings and ensure compliance via their own security staff.

A police briefing says: “Policing intends to work in partnership with relevant business owners and their staff to ensure face coverings are worn when they should be. We welcome their support in engaging with the public in the first instance, explaining the new requirements and encouraging compliance, to keep us all safe.

“It should be noted that the majority of relevant places, ie, shops and retail outlets, are private premises and their staff have the right to control access. Police officers’ attendance should only be required as a last resort.”

The police briefing also states that some organisations are encouraging compliance by having “give-aways” available.

Face coverings are already required in retail spaces, including museum shops. Seated areas where food or drink is consumed, such as restaurants and pubs, are exempt, but people should put their face covering back on once they leave their table.

The police say they are taking a four-phase approach to enforcing the regulations: they will first engage with anyone not complying to check whether they know about the regulations; then explain the benefits of wearing a mask to the wearer and others; encourage the person by helping them acquire a mask; and, as a last resort, enforce the regulations by denying entry, asking the person to leave or issuing a fixed penalty notice of £100.

The National Museum Directors’ Council has also updated its good practice guidelines for museums ahead of the new regulations coming into force, confirming that the new regulations will apply to museums, galleries, aquariums, indoor zoos or visitor farms, and other indoor tourist, heritage or cultural sites.

The guidance also states that disposable face coverings should not be recycled, and advises institutions to provide extra bins for staff and customers to ensure they do not use recycling bins. It says museums should be mindful that wearing face coverings may inhibit communication with people who rely on lip reading, facial expression and clear sound.

Further government guidance on face coverings is available here.


Certain people are exempted from wearing face coverings, including:

  • a child under the age of 11 years
  • a person responsible for a relevant place or an employee of that person acting in the course of their employment
  • persons providing services in the relevant place
  • an emergency responder (other than a constable) acting in their capacity as an emergency responder
  • a constable or PCSO acting in the course of their duty.

A full list of exemptions is available here.

There are also circumstances in which a person has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering, including those were:

  • The person cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability, or without severe distress
  • the person is accompanying, or providing assistance to another person who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • the person removes their face covering to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of either, to themselves or others
  • the person is entering or within a relevant place to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and does not have a face covering with them
  • it is reasonably necessary for the person to eat or drink, and they remove their face covering to do so
  • the person has had to remove their face covering to take medication
  • a police constable or PCSO (or other relevant person) requests the face covering is removed
  • a person responsible for a relevant place or an employee of that person acting in the course of their employment requires someone to remove their face covering in order to verify their identity
  • the person is in a registered pharmacy under specified circumstances.
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