Antiques centre
Face-coverings must already be worn in dealers’ shops and antiques centres, like Click Antiques and Vintage in Northampton shown here. But they will also now be mandatory when visiting auction houses too.

The updated guidance also applies to visitors to galleries and museums. Reports received by ATG suggest that currently some auction houses are asking visitors to wear masks but others are not.

Since July 24, face-coverings have been compulsory when on public transport as well as in supermarkets and shops. These measures apply to dealers’ premises and antique centres.

The government announced last week that this would be extended in England to cover other indoor spaces including cinemas, theatres and place of worship from August 8. Auction houses also appears on this list.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson announced an extension of face-covering rules on July 31.

Image via

The measures, brought in by law, apply to anyone above the age of 11 – apart from those with a valid exemption (such as specific health or disability reasons).

It is not compulsory for staff to wear face coverings, although the guidance says that “employers may consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place”.

An auctioneer, for example, would therefore not have to wear a face-covering when conducting a sale from the rostrum.

Clients attending the auction, however, would have to wear a covering. They may be permitted to remove the face-covering in a small number of scenarios – for identification purposes or to take medication, for example.

The guidance stresses that wearing a face covering is not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing for both clients and staff. It mentions that businesses “should continue to follow COVID-19 Secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact” between individuals.

Neumeister auction 2454NE 05-08-2020.jpg

Staff manning the phone lines at an auction in Neumeister in Germany.

Image: Astrid Eckert, courtesy of Neumeister

Devolved nations

The situation is different in the devolved nations of the UK where auction houses are not mentioned specifically in the guidance.

  • Scotland: A face covering must be worn by all people in a shop. A shop is defined as any indoor establishment which offers goods or services for sale or hire – many people may therefore expect the same to apply to auction houses. The law exempts staff in a shop from wearing a face covering where they are able to maintain 2m physical distancing from members of the public, or where perspex screens are in place. However, even where staff can maintain 2m physical distancing and are not legally obliged to wear a face covering, it is strongly recommended that one is worn.

    Update: On August 7 the Scottish government updated its guidance on face coverings. The list of places where a face covering is mandatory was expanded to include museums and galleries as well as other venues such as cinemas and libraries but auction houses were not on the list.

    The Scottish government guidance also stipulated that, more generally, in indoor places and where physical distancing is difficult and where there is a risk of contact within 2m with people who are not members of one's own household, you are expected to wear a face covering.

    Further guidance is available on the Scottish government website.
  • Wales: Face-coverings are mandatory on public transport and recommended for indoor spaces where social distancing is not possible. Further guidance is available on the Welsh government website.
  • Northern Ireland: From 10 August it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in a shop or shopping centre, or any indoor public space where it is not possible to maintain social distancing. Further guidance is available on the NI Direct website.
  • In Northern Ireland and Scotland the age exemption is different from England: under 13s and under fives, respectively, are exempt from being required to wear face coverings.

Meanwhile, the government’s decision to bring in additional measures to areas experiencing higher numbers of coronavirus cases means regulations are subject to change in certain areas at short notice.

Some areas, including a number of localities in the North West of England for example, have additional restrictions in terms of socialising in indoor venues (such as auction houses) and sharing a vehicle with people from outside your household or social bubble. View additional guidance here.