Face mask rules in Scotland: When could mandatory coverings be eased?

Face coverings have become a part of everyday life as people quickly adapted to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since June, wearing a covering has been mandatory on all public transport in Scotland.

A month later, it became law in shops.

But as Scotland looks towards an exit from lockdown – with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlining a route map to Level 0 earlier this month – it raises the question: how much longer will we have to wear masks?

Here, we outline when other countries have eased their mandatory mask policies, and what has been said so far in Scotland.

What is going on elsewhere?

In Australia, the state of Victoria eased restrictions on Friday meaning masks will no longer be mandatory in retail settings.

They will, however, need to be worn on public transport, hospitals, care homes and taxis.

They also will have to carry masks with them, and are being urged to wear them when physical distancing is not possible.

It comes after 24 days without any local cases of the virus there.

Elsewhere, in New South Wales, masks will no longer be mandatory – including on public transport.

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The state has recorded just two cases of community transmission in the past two months — both linked to the state’s hotel quarantine programme.

Chief medical officer Kerry Chant said the restrictions were being scrapped on the basis that there was no community transmission of Covid.

Given that Scotland has also introduced a mandatory hotel quarantine scheme, it could be hoped that if local community transmission can be reduced to similarly low levels, then we could eventually follow suit in mask policy.

In America, despite President Joe Biden making it clear restrictions are still necessary, the state of Texas has ended its mask requirement.

Mississippi has also followed suit. However, health experts are warning the pandemic is far from over there, with cases likely to pick up if curbs were lifted too soon.

What else has been said about masks?

Passengers will be asked to wear face masks on Ryanair flights potentially until 2022, the airline’s boss has said, as he announced a return to a more normal summer schedule.

The budget airline plans to run around 2,300 flights every day during the summer this year, Michael O’Leary said.

“I would imagine at this point in time, we’re planning to continue to require mandatory face mask wearing on board our aircraft through the remainder of this summer schedule and next winter’s schedule,” Mr O’Leary said.

What do we know so far in Scotland?

According to the Scottish Government’s website, “in all levels and settings”, we should follow “advice and requirements such as on the use of face coverings”.

Speaking on March 16 when she outlined Scotland’s route map out of the pandemic, the First Minister said that it is “hoped” that we could reach “at least Level 0” by the end of June.

Currently, guidance under Level 0 includes the mandatory wearing of face coverings on public transport and shops – unless you are exempt.

However, Ms Sturgeon said that “we hope we will be able to get beyond even that”, with a “view to restoring as much normality as possible”.

She told MSPs: “It is our fervent hope – and also our tentatively increasing expectation – that vaccination, continued and effective use of the test and protect system, and probably a continued compliance with precautions like good hand hygiene, will allow us to keep Covid under much greater control.

“And that this will allow us to enjoy many of the things that we took for granted before the pandemic – for example, normal family gatherings where we can hug our loved ones, sporting events, gigs and nightclubs.”

She said that she is “optimistic this date will be over the summer”, adding “hopefully something closer to actual normality, with the ability to hug those we love, will become possible”.

What does this mean?

From this, we can establish that the wearing of face coverings is likely to be in place for some time yet.

The First Minister has pointed towards “actual normality” by some point in the summer, suggesting that if the science backs things up, there could be a potential relaxation of the rules around masks.

However, if we look towards the decisions being made in Australia, the levels of cases may need to get to extremely low levels for this to take place.

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