Should I Be Wearing A Face Covering?

Page published on 6 July 2021

England Step 4 update

In England. The Government has announced more details about step 4, the final stage of the roadmap, which is expected to start on 19 July. There are also 5 principles for managing COVID-19 as we learn to live with the virus. Find out what will change following a move to step 4.

From the 19th July, the Government has advised facemasks no longer mandatory. Face coverings will no longer be legally required in shops, schools, hospitality, or on public transport although guidance will be in place to suggest where people might choose to wear one, such as where you come into contact with people you don’t usually meet in enclosed and crowded places.

Face coverings are now mandatory within certain settings, although each UK Government has its own policy for using these in spaces where social distancing is not possible. In general, face coverings are now compulsory for most people within enclosed communal areas, such as on public transport or in shops.

Face coverings can help us to protect each other and reduce the spread of COVID-19 within enclosed spaces where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

The rules will not apply to everyone, since there are a number of exemptions that may be relevant if your condition would make wearing a face covering extremely difficult or even impossible. Depending upon where you are in the UK, these are likely to include the following scenarios:

  • People who are unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering due to a physical or mental illness or disability
  • People for whom either putting on or removing a covering would cause severe distress
  • If the face covering must be removed to take medication, for example to swallow tablets or use an inhaler
  • Young children, although the minimum age may vary by location

You are not required to provide any paperwork to show that you are exempt, however there are resources you can download to print or have on your mobile phone (please click here) if you would feel more comfortable showing this to explain why you are not wearing a covering.

If you are exempt from wearing a face covering, the Government has produced an official exemption notice for mobile phones and a print-out card and badge – here.

The Hidden Disabilities Scheme has produced lanyard cards for people who are exempt from wearing a face covering. These are available here.

To protect resources for care professionals and other essential workers, you should not get a surgical face mask or respirators to use when you go out. The UK Government has a guide to making face-coverings at home, and the key aspect is that they cover your mouth and nose.

Face coverings in England

In England, face coverings are now mandatory for most people within enclosed public spaces, including supermarkets, shops, indoor shopping centres, all public transport, banks and post offices, as well as in hospitals and other medical settings. They must also be worn when buying takeaway food and drink, although they can be removed if you are in a seating area. Those who break the rules could face a fine of up to £100. The Government also states that in other small spaces where social distancing is not possible, anyone who can wear one should do so.

There are a number of exceptions to the rules (see above), that may apply to some people who are living with scleroderma. Retail and transport staff are being asked to remain mindful of hidden illnesses and disabilities as the scheme comes into force.

Read the full Government guidance and exemption criteria here

Face coverings in Scotland

In Scotland, face coverings are now compulsory on public transport and in shops. Exceptions will include anyone with a medical condition that makes it hard to wear one, as well as people with breathing difficulties. Children under five are also exempt. Face coverings are also strongly recommended in other enclosed public spaces.

Read the full Scottish Government guidance on face coverings

Face coverings in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the Government says that people should think about using face coverings in enclosed spaces where they cannot social distance. Almost everyone aged 13 or over has to wear one on public transport which includes most buses, trains and ferries. Face coverings are not currently compulsory in shops, although the Government will wait until 20 August to update this. You do not have to comply if your condition means that you can't wear a face covering or take it on and off – or if doing so would cause you severe distress. You do not need a letter from the doctor to prove this. If you are asked, you only have to explain that you can't wear one because you are exempt. The guidance reminds people that someone's reasons for not wearing a face covering might not always be visible.

Read the full Northern Ireland guidance on face coverings

Face Coverings in Wales

The Welsh Government website recommends that people in Wales wear three-layer face coverings wherever social distancing is not possible. From 27 July, almost everyone must wear this kind of face covering on public transport, subject to the usual exemptions.

Watch the Welsh Government's guide to making a suitable three-layer face covering

Read the full Welsh Government guidance on face coverings

About Face Coverings

By following Government guidance, you are helping to protect yourself, your family, the NHS and your community.

Wearing a face covering is not a replacement for proper social distancing and good hygiene. It may however help to protect other people if you are infected with coronavirus – even if you don't have symptoms. The evidence does not suggest that they will protect the wearer from catching the virus from other people.

If you do have coronavirus symptoms you should immediately self-isolate, along with your household (or support bubble). Wearing a face covering does not change this.

It is important to wash your hands before putting your covering on and taking it off. We should still avoid touching our faces as much as possible, whether we are wearing a face covering or not. Coverings should be washed after every use, or thrown away if they are disposable.