Face coverings: what you need to know

Rules are now in force in England making it compulsory to wear a face covering in NHS settings, shops and supermarkets, hospitality venues and other public indoor spaces.
montage of people wearing face coverings

Page updated 8 March 2021

When you need to wear a face covering

Face coverings are needed in NHS settings, including hospitals, and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries. They are also advised to be worn in care homes.

You need to wear a face covering on public transport, taxis and private hire vehicles.

And when visiting shops and public indoor spaces, including hospitality venues such as bars, pubs and restaurants.

You should also 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.

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Secondary schools and further education

From Monday, 8 March 2021, there is new advice on face coverings for staff, Year 7 and above pupils and students in England.

The Government says face coverings should be worn by everyone (unless exempt) when moving around schools and colleges, outside of classrooms, such as in corridors and communal areas where social distancing cannot easily be maintained.

It’s also recommended that face coverings be worn in classrooms and during activities, unless social distancing can be maintained. This will be reviewed at Easter.

Face coverings do not need to be worn by pupils or students when outdoors at school or college.

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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 round 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.

However, there are some occasions when you can remove a face covering - such as taking medication or getting married.

If you don’t …

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.

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 £200 (halving to £100 if paid within 14 days).

After the first offence, will be no discount. And anyone receiving a second fine will have to pay £400, a third fine will cost £800, up to a maximum of £6,400.

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? 

You may feel more comfortable showing something that says you do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

This is a personal choice, and is not necessary in law.

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..
  • A face visor or shield may be worn in addition to a face covering but not instead of one. This is because face visors or shields do not adequately cover the nose and mouth.

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.  

Top tips from Healthwatch staffer Debbie

Healthwatch team member Debbie has made nearly 100 masks for friends, colleagues, family and other local people around Huntingdon.

A member of her local For the love of Scrubs group, Debbie makes a pleated design using material, with elastic loops at the sides to go over your ears.

“Designs vary a lot so you might need to try different ones to get a good fit.

"The important thing is that you wash it regularly and after each use, when you get home,” she says.  “And to just wear it. It’s about protecting others, not protecting yourself.”

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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



How services are changing because of Covid 19

Read our advice and guidance on coronavirus and find out how services are changing to meet people's needs. 

Find out more