What are the rules and guidance for face masks and coverings?
Face coverings are no longer legally required in England.
But that’s not the end of masks. Other parts of the UK have different rules and some shops and transport still require them.
What is the law on masks?
- In England, the legal requirement to wear a face covering has ended. But government guidance says it “expects and recommends” the continued wearing of masks in crowded areas such as public transport
- People in England who can avoid mandatory self-isolation are advised to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces as a precaution
- In Scotland, masks must still be worn in shops and on public transport – as well as pubs and restaurants when not seated. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said such rules will remain in place “in all likelihood” for some time
- Masks are still required in Scottish secondary schools.
- In Wales, masks are still legally required on public transport and in all public indoor areas apart from pubs and restaurants.
- In Northern Ireland face coverings are no longer compulsory in places of worship, or for students in school classrooms. They must still be worn on public transport and in shops and hospitality venues
Why are rules different for some transport and shops?
Businesses and travel operators can set their own rules for customers and passengers.
For example, Transport for London requires face covering for travel on its services, like the Underground and buses.
In some areas there could be different rules depending on which transport you are using.
For example, in Greater Manchester, mayor Andy Burnham requires face coverings on trams. He also wants them to be worn on other city transport like buses, but these are privately run.
Other operators have announced plans:
- Train operator Greater Anglia says passengers should wear face coverings during busy times
- Brittany Ferries continue to require face coverings
- British Airways, EasyJet, Virgin and Ryanair say masks are required
Some shops have announced they still want shoppers to wear masks, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waterstones.
- The new rules in Scotland, Wales and the rest of the UK
What if I am exempt from wearing a mask?
Most people could be refused service, entry or the right to travel if a firm enforces a requirement to wear a face covering.
Companies decide their own health and safety measures and insisting on masks could be a reasonable rule, says Adam Wagner, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.
However, they would not be able to discriminate. So, if you are currently exempt from wearing a mask – for example if you have breathing difficulties – companies would probably have to continue to honour that exemption, says Mr Wagner.
What have scientists and doctors said?
The British Medical Association, which represents doctors is calling for the continued use of masks.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance have said they will continue to wear them.
Why use a face covering?
Evidence suggests transmission mainly happens indoors where people are close together.
Face coverings worn over the nose and mouth reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.
The main purpose is to protect others. If everyone wears one, the risks drop for all.
There is some evidence they offer protection to wearers, but are not a replacement for social distancing and hand-washing.
Masks can also help reduce virus spread from contagious people with no symptoms.
Cutting virus transmission is important because many people are not fully vaccinated.
Also, some new virus variants appear more transmissible.
- Five ways to avoid catching coronavirus indoors
What sort of face covering is best?
Make sure it:
- has a nose wire
- has at least two/three layers of material
- fits snugly over mouth, nose and chin
The highest level of protection is provided by FFP3 (or similar) masks worn by healthcare workers in high risk settings. A recent study found FFP3 masks provided up to 100% protection against Covid.
Hospital staff wearing standard surgical masks were much more likely to catch the virus.
Members of the public can buy FFP3 masks, but they won’t provide the highest protection unless fitted correctly.