Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 18 Oct 2021 - see all updates

Rules and guidance on wearing face coverings and masks, including exemptions.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks
Face covering exemptions

When you don’t need to wear a face covering (exemptions)

By law, you must wear a face covering in most indoor public spaces, unless you are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances.

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering. However, we recognise that there are situations where a person is unable to, or it would be inappropriate, for them to wear a face covering.

For example, you do not have to wear a face covering if:

  • you’re under 12 years old
  • wearing one makes you extremely anxious or distressed
  • you’ve got a physical or mental illness or disability which means you can’t wear one

Those exempt by law should not be:

  • forced to wear a face covering
  • abused or treated in an unacceptable way
  • denied access to places where face coverings are required.

Temporary removal of a face covering

There are some situations when you can temporarily remove your face covering, including:

  • when taking medication, such as an inhaler
  • when you are working as an employer, employee or volunteer at work and you are separated from others by a distance of at least 1 metre or by a screen or partition – however, we would still encourage staff to wear face coverings in this situation if possible
  • when in an indoor communal part of the workplace (including colleges and universities settings) and you are separated from others by a distance of at least 1 metre or by a screen or partition – however, we would still encourage staff to wear face coverings in this situation, if possible
  • when sitting down in a hospitality venue such as a pub, café or restaurant (note that on public transport a face covering must be worn at all times when not eating or drinking)when eating or drinking
  • when exercising
  • during the ceremony part of your wedding or civil partnership if you are the couple getting married or the person accompanying one or both parties to be married to the pace of the ceremony (but only if you are at least on1 metre apart from other people or are using a screen or partition)
  • when performing or rehearsing and you are separated from others by a distance of at least 1 metre or by a screen or partition
  • if you are communicating with someone who relies on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate (try to keep a safe distance of 1 metre is possible, especially if indoors)
  • when undertaking tasks at work where the wearing of a face covering would be dangerous
  • to allow access to your mouth or nose area during a close contact treatment, as long as the person providing the treatment is wearing appropriate protective equipment - see guidance for the close contact sector

This is not a full list of exemptions. Additional exemptions are set out in the regulations.

There may be some situations when you can wear a face covering and others when you can’t, so you should consider whether you are able to wear a face covering specific to the particular circumstances.

Alternatively, you may be able to wear a face shield and should do as it is safer than not wearing any face covering at all. Please note that face shields are not considered face coverings or masks, and do not offer the same level of protection. Read more information on this.

What doesn’t count as a reason not to wear a face covering

You cannot claim an exemption from wearing a face covering because:

  • you don’t want to wear one
  • of mild discomfort when wearing one
  • having a health condition or disability which does not prevent you from wearing a face covering safely
  • you are deaf and lip read
  • they steam up your glasses

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 18 Oct 2021 -