Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings

From 10 August the use of face coverings in certain indoor settings, such as shops or shopping centres, will be mandatory. You must also wear a face covering on public transport.

The reason for using face coverings

Coronavirus (COVID-19) usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first.

This is why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes is important in controlling the spread of the virus.

The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others.

Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus (COVID-19) they’re not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing.

It’s important to follow all the other government advice on coronavirus (COVID-19) including staying safe outside your home.

If you have recent onset of any of the most important symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19):

  • a new continuous cough
  • a high temperature
  • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of smell or taste (anosmia)

You and your household must isolate at home. Wearing a face covering does not change this. You should arrange to have a test to see if you have COVID-19.

How to make a face covering

A face covering is a covering of any type which covers your nose and mouth.

You should use a reusable, cloth face covering if possible to help protect the environment. Emerging evidence suggests that the risk of transmission may be reduced by using thicker fabrics or multiple layers but it should still be breathable.

There is advice about how to make your own face covering available on the UK Government website.

How to wear a face covering

In line with the advice from the World Health Organisation, when you wear a face covering it is important that you:

  • do not get a false sense of security about the level of protection they may offer
  • continue to practice social distancing
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on, and after removing it

A face covering should:

  • cover your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe comfortably
  • fit comfortably but securely against the side of the face
  • be secured to the head with ties or ear loops
  • be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton
  • ideally include at least two layers of fabric (the World Health Organisation recommends three depending on the fabric used)
  • unless disposable, it should be able to be washed with other items of laundry according to fabric washing instructions and dried without causing the face covering to be damaged

A vent is not recommended.  Masks with valves allow air breathed out to pass unfiltered into the environment, along with potential droplets, defeating the key purpose of protecting those around you.

When wearing a face covering

When wearing a face covering you should:

  • make sure the face covering covers your mouth, nose and chin without any gaps at the side
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before putting a face covering on
  • avoid wearing on your neck or forehead
  • avoid touching the part of the face covering in contact with your mouth and nose, as it could be contaminated with the virus
  • change the face covering if it becomes damp or if you’ve touched it
  • avoid taking it off and putting it back on a lot in quick succession (for example, when leaving and entering shops on a high street)

When removing a face covering

When removing a face covering you should:

  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser before removing
  • only handle the straps, ties or clips
  • do not give it to someone else to use
  • if single-use, dispose of it carefully in a residual waste bin and do not recycle
  • if reusable, wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric after every use
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed

Maintaining and disposing of face coverings

Do not touch the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose.

Once removed, store reusable face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them.

If the face covering is single use, dispose of it in a waste bin - do not put them in a recycling bin.

Make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched using normal household cleaning products. If eating in a restaurant, for example, it is important that you do not place the face covering on the table.

Wash your face covering regularly and follow the washing instructions for the fabric. You can use your normal detergent. You can wash and dry it with other laundry.

You must throw away your face covering if it is damaged.

Face coverings in indoor public places

From 10 August, it will be mandatory to wear a face covering in a relevant place.  A relevant place generally means a shop or shopping centre.  As well as ordinary day to day shopping for items such as clothes, food or electrical goods, a face covering is required in any other indoor place where goods or services are available to buy or rent. 

This includes, for example, a bookmakers, a food takeaway business or a dry cleaner.

It is not mandatory to wear a face covering in a business that is able to maintain social distancing by using a system of ticketing or appointments.  This might include, for example, a cinema, a hairdresser or a solicitor.

You do not have to wear a face covering in a bank or a business that operates like a bank.

There are circumstances where it is not possible to wear a face covering, for example, where you are eating or drinking in a restaurant, pub or café.  If you are a customer of a food takeaway business, or a shop that sells food or drink for immediate consumption, and it provides seating for its customers, you may remove your face covering while eating and drinking at those seats.

You do not have to wear a face covering in a gym or other place where the purpose of your attendance is aerobic exercise. 

If you remove your face covering to eat, drink or exercise, you should replace it as soon as practicable afterwards and maintain social distancing of at least 2 meters if you are in an enclosed space. 

If you are in any doubt about whether you are required to wear a face covering, you are advised to use one.  Remember, maintaining social distancing depends not just on your behaviour, but also on the behaviour of other people in the shared space.

You don’t have to wear a face covering:

  • if you are under the age of 13
  • if you are a member of staff or employee of the shop or shopping centre
  • temporarily, if a member of staff or employee or a police officer asks you to remove it to check your identity
  • If you have a reasonable excuse not to

An employee of a shop or shopping centre can tell you to wear a face covering, and can tell you to leave the shop or shopping centre if you refuse to wear one and do not have a reasonable excuse not to.

Some circumstances make it difficult for some people to wear face coverings.  In these circumstances people may have a 'reasonable excuse' not to wear a face covering in a shop or shopping centre.

These reasonable excuses include:

  • If you need to seek medical assistance or to provide care to someone who needs assistance, such as a vulnerable person or in an emergency
  • if you need to avoid injury, illness or escape from harm
  • if you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • if you need to remove it to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
  • if you need to eat, drink, or take medication
  • if you are asked to remove your face covering by a police officer or other official.

There is no need to get a letter from a doctor or the government to show that you do not need to wear a face covering. 

If you have a condition (for example, a disease such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis) which means you cannot wear a face covering you only need to say, if asked, that you cannot wear a face covering because you are exempt.  

It is important that we all respect one another and remember that the reasons for not wearing a face covering may not always be visible.

If you do not wear a face covering and you are not under 13 or have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one, you are committing an offence and could be fined.

Face coverings on public transport

Since 10 July 2020, all passengers and staff on public transport must wear a face covering:

  • on bus, coach and train services
  • in public transport stations
  • in indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep two metres social distance

This does not apply to tour coaches and taxis or private hire vehicles but some operators may have their own rules you should follow.

Although face coverings may not prevent you from becoming infected with the virus, they help prevent people who don’t know they have the virus spreading it to others.

By wearing a face covering you are showing your support and consideration for other passengers and staff and playing your part to prevent transmission of the virus.

You don’t have to wear a face covering:

  • on school transport
  • if you are under the age of 13
  • if you are a member of staff and are behind a protective screen
  • if you are a passenger or a member of staff and have a reasonable excuse

Some circumstances make it difficult for some people to wear face coverings.

In these circumstances people may have a 'reasonable excuse' not to wear a face covering on public transport.

These reasonable excuses include:

  • if you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • if you need to remove it during your journey to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
  • if you need to eat, drink, or take medication you can remove your face covering
  • if you are asked to remove your face covering by a police officer or other official

There is no need to get a letter from a doctor or government to show that you do not need to wear a face covering.

If you have a condition which means you cannot wear a face covering you only need to say, if asked, that you cannot wear a face covering because you are exempt.

It is important that we all respect one another and remember that the reasons for not wearing a face covering may not always be visible.

If you do not wear a face covering and you are not under 13 or have a reasonable excuse for not wearing one, you are committing an offence and could be fined.

When you return home, wash your face covering before you reuse it, if the material is washable.

If it’s not washable, dispose of it carefully in the general waste

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