What is a face covering?
A face covering is something which safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings. You may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face.
Face coverings are not classified as PPE (personal protective equipment) which is used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks, such as surgical masks or respirators used in medical and industrial settings.
Face coverings are instead largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes infection.
When do I need to wear face coverings?
In England, by law, you must wear a face covering in all the following indoor settings:
- 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, indoor sports stadiums, funfairs, theme parks, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas including soft-play areas)
- 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
- exhibition halls and conference centres
- 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.
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.
What enforcement measures are there for failing to comply with the laws on face coverings?
Premises where face coverings are required should take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law.
The police can take measures if members of the public do not comply with this law without a valid exemption and transport operators can deny access to their public transport services if a passenger is not wearing a face covering, or direct them to wear one or leave a service.
If necessary, the police and Transport for London (TfL) officers have enforcement powers including issuing fines of £100 (halving to £50 if paid within 14 days for the first offence).
Repeat offenders receiving fines on public transport or in an indoor setting will have their fines doubled at each offence. After the first offence, there will be no discount. For example, receiving a second fine will amount to £200 and a third fine will be £400, up to a maximum value of £3,200.
When do I 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 recommended 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 - 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 facial
- 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 aged 11 to 18 attending a faith school and having lessons in a place of worship as part of your core curriculum
- if you are undertaking exercise or an activity and it would negatively impact your ability to do so
- if you are an elite sports person, professional dancer or referee acting in the course of your employment
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.