This page explains what face coverings are, their role in reducing the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19), the settings in which they are recommended, and how they should be safely used and stored. This information is based on current scientific evidence and is subject to change.
This information relates to the use of face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is not always possible. It is important to follow all the other government advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) including staying safe outside your home.
There are some places where you must wear a face covering by law. Different rules exist in different parts of the UK about which you can find out more on the relevant regional websites:
In England, you must wear a face covering in the following indoor settings (a list of examples for each is included in the brackets):
- public transport (aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses)
- transport hubs (airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals)
- shops and supermarkets (places which offer goods or services for retail sale or hire)
- shopping centres (malls and indoor markets)
- auction houses
- premises providing professional, legal or financial services (post offices, banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses)
- premises providing personal care and beauty treatments (hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours)
- premises providing veterinary services
- visitor attractions and entertainment venues (museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, cultural and heritage sites, aquariums, indoor zoos and visitor farms, bingo halls, amusement arcades, adventure activity centres, funfairs, theme parks)
- libraries and public reading rooms
- places of worship
- funeral service providers (funeral homes, crematoria and burial ground chapels)
- community centres, youth centres and social clubs
- public areas in hotels and hostels
- storage and distribution facilities
You are expected to wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless there is a reasonable excuse for removing it. More detailed advice on the application of these requirements in different settings can be found in the Government’s guidance for working safely.
You should also wear a face covering in indoor places not listed here where social distancing may be difficult and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.
Face coverings are needed in NHS settings, including hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries. They are also advised to be worn in care homes
When you do not need to wear a face covering.
In settings where face coverings are required in England, there are some circumstances where people may not be able to wear a face covering. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances, noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings, and that the reasons for this may not be visible to others.
This includes (but is not limited to):
- children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
- people who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
- employees of indoor settings (or people acting on their behalf, such as someone leading part of a prayer service) or transport workers (see section 6) – although employers may consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place, in line with COVID-19 Secure guidelines
- police officers and other emergency workers, given that this may interfere with their ability to serve the public
- where putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
- if you are speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate
- to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others – including if it would negatively impact on your ability to exercise or participate in a strenuous activity
There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering:
- if asked to do so in a bank, building society, or post office for identification
- if asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification, for assessing health recommendations (e.g. by a pharmacist), or for age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products such as alcohol
- if required in order to receive treatment or services, for example when getting a haircut
- in order to take medication
- if you are delivering a sermon or prayer in a place or worship
- if you are the persons getting married in a relevant place
- if you are undertaking exercise or an activity and it would negatively impact your ability to do so
Face coverings are not required in restaurants with table service, bars, and pubs. If removing your face covering to eat or drink in an indoor premises with a café or designated seating area, then you can remove your face covering in this area only.
Face coverings are not required in restaurants with table service, bars, and pubs. If other indoor premises have a café or seating area for you to eat and drink, then you can remove your face covering in this area only. You must put a face covering back on once you leave your seating area. If removing your face covering to eat or drink in an indoor premises with a café or designated seating area, then you can remove your face covering in this area only.
The government’s guidance for keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services clearly advises that designated indoor seating areas for customers to eat or drink should at this time only be open for table service, where possible, alongside additional infection control measures.
Those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards. No person needs to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face covering.
Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.
This is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.