Face coverings reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.
So, what sort of masks should be worn and where?
Face covering or a mask?
With new, more contagious variants of the virus circulating, some experts and officials are questioning whether people should wear more protective masks in some places.
Germany and Austria have made medical-grade masks compulsory on public transport and in shops.
These are made from non-woven fabric, which is better at stopping spray and droplets. The highest level of protection is provided by FFP3 (or similar) masks worn by healthcare workers in high risk settings to safely do their job.
Cloth face coverings do not give the wearer as much protection.
But the World Health Organization says it has no plans to change its guidance recommending fabric facemasks for the general public. This is because the new coronavirus variants are transmitted in the same way.
Why should I wear a mask?
Cloth face coverings should mainly be worn to protect other people from coronavirus, rather than yourself. If everyone wears one, the risk for all goes down.
When worn correctly, they should cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission.
They can help to reduce the spread of the virus from people who are contagious, including those who have no symptoms, or are yet to develop them.
There is also evidence they can offer some protection to the wearer, although they are not a replacement for social distancing and hand-washing.
Where must they be worn in the UK?
Face coverings (or masks) are compulsory across the UK when
- On public transport
- In shops
- Not seated at a table to eat or drink in hospitality venues
People can be refused travel for not following the rules, or fined. In England and Northern Ireland the police can issue a £200 fine. In Scotland and Wales, a £60 fine can be imposed. Repeat offenders face bigger fines.
In England and Scotland, face coverings are also compulsory in a number of indoor spaces, including:
- Banks, building societies and post offices
- Places of worship
- Museums, galleries and entertainment venues
- Libraries and public reading rooms
Scotland also requires face coverings to be worn in indoor spaces, such as staff canteens and workplace corridors.
In Wales, face coverings must be worn in all indoor public places by customers and staff.
In Northern Ireland, they must be worn in “any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent”.
What should not to do when you wear a mask or a mask？
Does everyone have to wear one?
Some people do not have to wear a face covering. They include:
- Children (under 11 in England or Wales, under 13 in Northern Ireland,
- under five in Scotland)
- Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or
- mental illness or disability
- People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress
- Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
You can remove your mask if:
- You need to eat, drink, or take medication
- A police officer or other official asks you to, or for shop staff to verify your age
- You are entering a shop to avoid harm, if you do not have a mask on you
Young children should not wear face masks because of the risk of choking and suffocation.
Do you have to prove if you are exempt?
Government guidance says you do not have to show any written evidence for why you are exempt.
You should not seek medical advice, or request a medical letter, and the government does not provide exemption cards or badges.
However, the government has provided some suggested templates which people can use if they wish.
There is more specific guidance about face coverings and exemptions in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.
What are the face-covering rules in schools?
Primary and secondary schools in the UK have moved to remote learning for most pupils.
The government does not recommend wearing face coverings in schools and colleges because of measures already in place.
However, each nation has different rules:
- In England, secondary schools can require face coverings in communal areas, where social distancing is not possible and they can be mandatory if local restrictions require them
- The Scottish government says all secondary school pupils should wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas, and senior pupils (years S4-S6) and their teachers must wear them in class
- All staff in Scottish schools must wear masks where social distancing is not possible
- In Wales, face coverings are recommended in high schools when social distancing is “unlikely to be maintained”
- In Northern Ireland, face coverings must be worn in the corridors of post-primary schools