Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance
The use of face coverings is strongly recommended in all indoor settings accessible to the public across Northern Ireland. Wearing a face covering helps keep you and others safe from COVID-19.
The reason for using face coverings
You can still catch and pass on the virus even if you have been vaccinated, so wearing a face covering helps to reduce the spread.
COVID-19 usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.
The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances.
Although they may not prevent you from becoming infected with the virus, face coverings help prevent you from spreading it to others if you are unaware you are infected (some people don’t have any symptoms, especially early in the infection).
Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from 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 COVID-19 including taking steps to stay safe and help prevent the spread.
By wearing a face covering you are showing your support and consideration for others and playing your part to prevent transmission of the virus.
However, some people may find it difficult to wear face coverings. It is important to respect one another and remember that the reasons some may not wear a face covering may not always be visible.
Face coverings in indoor public places
It is strongly recommended that you wear a face covering indoors in any premises that are accessible to the public.
This includes in shops, banks, entertainment and hospitality venues, indoor attractions and places of worship.
You do not need to wear a face covering if you are seated in a restaurant, pub or café, though you should wear one if you leave your seat, such as when entering or leaving the premises, purchasing goods and visiting the toilet.
It is strongly recommended that people who work in public areas of any enclosed premises also wear a face covering, unless they are separated from members of the public by a partition. This includes, for example, someone stacking shelves in a supermarket or a waiter in a café.
If you are in any doubt about whether you should wear a face covering, you are advised to wear one.
It is also recommended that all businesses, including retail, hospitality, transport providers and close contact services promote the wearing of face coverings.
This may include, but is not limited to, effective signage, audio messaging and providing face coverings.
Face coverings in Health and Social Care settings
It is strongly recommended that you wear a face covering when visiting any Health and Social Care setting, and follow other guidance, such as social distancing and using hand washing facilities, to keep patients, other service users and staff safe.
These settings include:
- GP surgeries
- dental practices
- high street opticians
- care homes
Face coverings on public transport, coaches, taxis and tour buses
It is strongly recommended that you wear a face covering on all forms of passenger transport and in stations, including:
- on all buses and coaches, including private hire vehicles and school services
- on all train services
- in indoor areas of a ferry
- in taxis
- in airports
- in indoor areas of public transport premises
Face coverings on school transport
It is strongly recommended that all pupils, regardless of age, continue to wear a face covering on both public transport and school transport services, where it is appropriate for them to do so and they are able to handle them as directed.
They should not be used by some children and young people with special educational needs who may become distressed.
This includes on:
- Education Authority buses
- Translink dedicated school buses
- private coaches and taxis used to travel to school
- public trains, buses and ferries
Learning to drive
If you are learning to drive, both you and your instructor should wear a face covering, unless they live in the same household as you. You should also wear a face covering when taking your driving test, as should your examiner.
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
Face visors or face shields
Face visors or shields do not offer the same protection as a cloth face covering, which sits directly over the nose and the mouth.
The use of cloth face coverings is recommended, as they provide much better protection from the risk of infection from the COVID-19 virus.