Coronavirus and face coverings

What do you need to know about face coverings? We have brought together the latest guidance and rules around face coverings.

What is a face covering?

A covering of any type that safely covers the mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably. You can follow the Government guidance and make face-coverings at home. You may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering but these must securely fit round the side of the face.

A face covering is not the same as the surgical masks or respirators used by healthcare and other workers as part of personal protective equipment. These should continue to be reserved for those who need them to protect against risks in their workplace, such as health and care workers, and those in industrial settings, like those exposed to dust hazards.

How to wear a face covering

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
When wearing a face covering you should:
  • 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:
  • 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
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed

Why am I being asked to wear one?

Evidence suggests that wearing a face covering does not protect you. However, if you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.

Face coverings do not replace social distancing. If you have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, and/or high temperature, and/or 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.

When do I need to wear one?

If you do not wear a face covering where you are legally required to you will be breaking the law and could be fined £100, or £50 if you pay the fine within 14 days.

On public transport and in transport hubs

It is the law that you must wear a face covering when travelling in England on public transport or in transport hubs (train stations, ports and airports). There is further Government guidance on how safe travel for passengers.

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 they are not wearing a face covering.

In NHS settings

You must wear a face covering when you attend hospital or a GP practice as a visitor or an outpatient. Hospitals will be able to provide a face covering in emergencies. Hospital staff may also check your temperature upon your arrival.

Information about Kingston Hospital

Information about West Middlesex Hospital

In shops, supermarkets and banks

You are expected to wear a face covering immediately before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave.

Shops, supermarkets and other premises where face coverings are required, are encouraged to take reasonable steps to promote compliance with the law and could refuse entry to anyone who does not have a valid exemption.

When social distancing isn't possible

If you can, you should also wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

Who is exempt from wearing one?

In settings where face coverings are required in England, there are some circumstances, for health, age or equality reasons, where people are not expected to wear face coverings. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances, noting that some people are less able to wear face coverings, and that the reasons for this may not be visible to others.

It is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff or transport workers to wear face coverings (see section 6), although employers may consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place. Employers should continue to follow COVID-19 Secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact between employees.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes (but is not limited to):
  • young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommended face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)

  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability

  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink if reasonably necessary
  • in order to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering
There are also scenarios when you are permitted to remove a face covering when asked:
  • if asked to do so in a bank, building society, or post office for identification

  • if asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification, the purpose of assessing health recommendations, such as a pharmacist, or for age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products such as alcohol

  • if speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication

Looking for further information about coronavirus?

We have brought together the latest information about coronavirus including how you can get involved and help your community, and how to help your wellbeing during these uncertain times. 

Find out more