Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Phase 2: staying safe and protecting others (physical distancing)

Rules on staying safe and protecting others to help protect the NHS and save lives.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Phase 2: staying safe and protecting others (physical distancing)
Face coverings

Face coverings

Physical distancing, hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene are the most important and effective things we can all do to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Therefore, the wearing of face coverings must not be used as an alternative to any of these other precautions.

The evidence on the use of face coverings remains limited but supports their use in certain circumstances.  Some people can have the virus but have no symptoms (asymptomatic infection) or have a period where they are infectious before they show coronavirus symptoms (presymptomatic infection).  Wearing a face covering where 2 metre distancing is not possible (as described in this guidance) may provide some level of protection against transmission to other people in close proximity, especially for those who may be more at risk.

In enclosed spaces, where physical distancing is more difficult and where there is a risk of close contact with multiple people who are not members of your household, you should wear a face covering.

Examples include: shops or businesses; visits to a care home for the elderly; visits to adult hospitals as an outpatient; and GP surgeries or pharmacies where it is not always possible to maintain a 2 metre distance from other people. There is no evidence to suggest there might be a benefit outdoors from wearing a face covering unless in an unavoidable crowded situation.

We announced that wearing a face covering will, by law, be compulsory (with certain exceptions) from 10 July in shops.   But please do not wait until then to get into the habit of using a face covering.

By face coverings we do not mean a surgical or other medical grade mask but a covering of the mouth and nose that is made of cloth or other textiles and through which you can breathe, for example a scarf or religious head covering that covers the mouth and nose. You may also use, if you prefer, a face visor but it must cover your nose and mouth completely.

Religious face coverings that cover the mouth and the nose count as face coverings for these purposes  When applying or removing the covering, it is important that you wash your hands first and avoid touching your face. After each use, you must wash the face covering at 60 degrees centigrade or dispose of it safely.

Face coverings should not be used for children under the age of five years.

Individual discretion should be applied in considering the use of face coverings for other children including, for example, children with breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face covering.

Similarly, discretion is allowed for people who have a health condition, disabled people and those who need to communicate with a person who has difficulties communicating (in relation to speech, language or otherwise) where wearing a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety or because it cannot be worn in the proper manner safely.

It is expected that you use face coverings in the circumstances described above as a precautionary measure. Given that the evidence of impact on transmission is relatively weak, the public use of face coverings is currently not mandatory except on public transport.

Face coverings on public transport

People must by law wear a face covering on public transport  and public transport premises such as train stations and airports.

Accordingly, face covering must be worn by all passengers and staff or operators in the following settings:

  • train services including the Glasgow subway
  • bus services and the Edinburgh tram
  • taxi and private hire vehicles
  • bus stations, railway stations and airports
  • ferry services (unless the ferry is open to the elements and physical distancing can be achieved, or the vessel is large enough that physical distancing can be achieved)
  • airline services

Specific exemptions provide that certain categories of people are not required to wear a face covering. This includes children under five years of age, a police constable or workers such as paramedics acting in the course of their duty.  Staff such as drivers who are physically separated, by means of, for example, screens, from other staff and passengers are also exempt from wearing face coverings.

You may also have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if, for example:

  • you have a health condition where a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety or because you cannot apply a covering and wear it in the proper manner safely and consistently.
  • you have a reasonable need to eat or drink
  • you need to take medication
  • you need to communicate with someone else who relies on lip reading
  • a relevant person, such as a police officer, asks you to remove your face covering

First published: 6 Jul 2020 Last updated: 7 Jul 2020 -