Face coverings: what you need to know

Later this week, new rules are coming into force in England making it compulsory to wear a face covering in shops and supermarkets.
person coughing graphic

The change will happen on Friday 24 July.  But shop staff will not legally be required to comply.

The government says it is introducing these rules to lessen the risk and increase confidence as the country returns more to normality.

You must also wear a face covering when:

  • Travelling on public transport
  • Visiting hospitals and outpatient appointments

You are also strongly advised to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible and where you are more likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

However, there are no plans to make face coverings mandatory for office workers or in schools. 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast that face coverings helped prevent spread during short interactions with strangers.  But that social distancing and hand washing were more effective for contact with people over long periods of time.

What is a face covering?

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 around the side of your face.

Why wear one?

They protect others – not the wearer – against the spread of the infection because they cover the nose and mouth. Coronavirus (Covid-19) can spread predominantly by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

The Government says that when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances.

If you don’t …

Under the new rules, people who do not wear a face covering in shops or on public transport face a fine of up to £100 – although it is cut to £50 if you pay within 14 days.

Shops can refuse entry to people without face coverings and can call the police if people refuse to comply. The police have enforcement powers and can issue a fine.

On public transport, people can be refused travel and fined the same amount.

Who’s exempt?

Some people are exempt from wearing a face covering – perhaps for health reasons. And everyone is encouraged to be mindful of those less able to wear them.

These include:

  • Young people under 11
  • People travelling with/accompanying someone who lip reads
  • Anyone who suffers severe distress when they put it on
  • Someone with a disability where they’re unable to put it on

Worried about being challenged? 

Print out and carry one of these cards from Keep Safe UK or save it as a photo on your phone.

For a London Transport Exemption Card click here.

Wear it well

  • It should safely cover your nose and mouth and go under your chin.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times
  • Store used face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them
  • Wash a face covering regularly
  • Glasses steaming up?  Try putting the top of your mask/covering behind your frames. Or tape it down across the bridge of your nose and across your cheeks..

Treat your face covering like underwear!

Infectious diseases expert Dr Daniel Griffin from Columbia University in the USA says to think of a mask as underwear: and wash it after each use. 

Your face covering is personal -- don't borrow or lend it to others.

Wear it out of respect for others.


You can easily make your own – with designs ranging from a basic no-sew made from an old T shirt and a couple of hairbands.

Some people are adding filters made from vacuum bags, coffee filters and sanitary liners.  

Read more Government advice on making masks

And finally …

Even with a face covering on, you still need to:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Keep your distance from other people

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