Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings and masks

Last updated: 5 Jan 2022 - see all updates
Published: 30 Oct 2020

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 sitting at a table in a restaurant, café  bar, public house, nightclub, dance hall, discotheque or sexual entertainment venue
  • when you are eating or drinking- this means when you are not seated at a table in the venues listed, you can take your face covering off to eat or drink.  You should only take your face covering off to actively eat or drink - when you are not doing this, you should replace it.
  • this means that when you are sitting on public transport a face covering must be worn at all times when not eating or drinking
  • when taking medication, such as an inhaler
  • when exercising
  • if you are communicating with someone who relies on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate (try to keep a safe distance of 2 metres if 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
  • in the immediate vicinity of the venue, the parties to the marriage or civil partnership, and the persons(s) accompanying you, do not have to wear a face covering while you and the accompanying person(s) go to the specific place where the ceremony or registration will take place. There is no requirement for a distance of two metres to be maintained, or for a screen or partition, between you or the accompanying person(s) if this exemption applies

If you are separated from others by a distance of at least 2 metres or by a screen or partition, you do not have to wear a face covering if you are:

  •  at work and working as an employer, employee or volunteer
  • in an indoor communal part of the workplace
  • if you are one of the parties to be married or entering into a civil partnership, during the ceremony part of your wedding or civil partnership
  • leading a funeral, marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration
  • leading an act of worship when in a place of worship
  • performing, rehearsing, presenting, addressing a public gathering, making a speech or being a panel member
  • indoors on a ferry

 If you cannot do this, you should continue to wear your face covering.

It is important to note that these exemptions are very specific, applying only to those people listed in the Requirements Regulations, as amended by the new Regulations. 

It means for example, if you go into a shop, the assistant may remove their face coverings if there is a screen or they are at least 2 metres apart, or the leader at a place of worship may remove theirs if they can comply with the requirements.  However, the customers or the people in the place of worship will continue to wear their face covering, unless another exemption applies to them.

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: 5 Jan 2022 -