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Face coverings are now only mandatory in health and social care settings.

First published:
9 June 2020
Last updated:

What has changed?

  • You must still wear face coverings in health and social care settings.
  • There is no longer a legal requirement for you to wear a face covering in other indoor public places or on public transport.
  • We strongly recommend that you still wear face coverings even where you don’t have to.  COVID-19 is still a risk, and we must continue to do what we can to limit the spread.
  • You may have COVID-19 but not know it if you do not have symptoms.  Wearing a face covering can help prevent you passing it to others.

Protecting yourself and others

Limiting or not mixing with other households, social distancing, hand washing, ensuring ventilation in homes, use of face coverings and self-isolation when required are steps everyone can take.

You should take regular lateral flow tests even if you do not have symptoms, especially before you meet with others.

You are still legally required to wear a face covering in health and social care settings.

You should consider wearing one in other indoor public places and on public transport even where there is no legal requirement to do so.

If more of us take these protective actions more often, this will help limit the spread of the virus as well as the flu virus.

We know that a well fitted face mask (covering the nose and mouth) using quality materials, will reduce leakage and particle exposure.

What is the legal requirement?

You must wear face coverings in health and social care settings.

Continuing to wear face coverings in these settings helps to protect others. Clinically vulnerable people may have less of a choice in attending these places.

What about other types of indoor public place?

You do not have to wear face coverings in other indoor public places.   

Despite it not being a legal requirement it is strongly advised that both employees and customers wear a face covering indoors. This advice especially applies in the following premises, unless people are otherwise exempt or are actively eating, drinking or dancing:

  • in hospitality settings such as pubs or nightclubs
  • at a wedding, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremony or reception

Managers of premises may ask you to wear a face covering. They can ask you to do this because they have looked at how to manage the risks for their business. If this is the case, you are asked to comply unless you are otherwise exempt from wearing a face covering.

Who the requirement applies to

Who does the requirement apply to?

It applies to everyone aged 11 and over, unless an exception applies. Children under 11 do not have to wear face coverings.

It applies to staff working in indoor public areas and to members of the public entering those public areas in health and social care settings .

Who does not have to wear face coverings?

There are some circumstances where people may not be able to wear a face covering. Please be mindful and respectful of such circumstances, noting that some people may be less able to wear face coverings and the reasons for this may not be visible to others.

You may have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if (for example):

  • you are not able to put on or to wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness, or because of a condition or impairment
  • you are accompanying somebody who relies on lip reading where they need to communicate and you cannot access a clear face covering
  • you are escaping from a threat or danger and don’t have a face covering

From experience in other countries where face coverings have been required, we know survivors of violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence sometimes find that wearing a mask triggers flashbacks to traumatic experiences. If that applies to you then this would also be a good reason not to wear a face covering.

If the requirement applies to me, will I have to keep my face covering on at all times?

In general, yes, but you may have a reasonable excuse to remove a face covering temporarily if (for example):

  • you need to take medicines
  • you need to eat or drink
  • you need to remove a face covering to avoid harm or injury, either to yourself or others – for example to get somebody’s attention about a danger
  • you need to do this in order to receive treatment or services

Most people do not need to eat or drink on short trips away from home but this may be different for somebody who is diabetic, for example, or because of the environmental conditions, such as in hot weather or high humidity.

What if I am asked to remove my face covering?

You may have a reasonable excuse to remove a face covering temporarily if:

  • you are asked to do so by someone who will otherwise find it difficult to communicate with you
  • you are asked to do so in a bank, building society or post office for identification, if you are choosing to wear one
  • you are asked to do so by a member of staff or relevant employees for identification, for assessing health recommendations (e.g. by a pharmacist), or for age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products such as alcohol

How can I show that I am not required to wear a face covering?

Whether somebody has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering will not always be obvious.

Disabilities and impairments are not always visible to others, such as neurodevelopmental conditions, and respect and understanding should be shown to those who have good reasons not to wear face coverings.

Those who have an age, health or impairment related reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this. You do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering.

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they do not have to wear a face covering. This could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign. A number of organisations have created cards that can be downloaded from their websites and printed, including the Welsh Government and Transport for Wales.

Carrying an exemption card is a personal choice and is not necessary in law.

If you have a genuine exemption, you do not need to wear a face covering. You do not have to provide proof to anyone. However, it is not acceptable to claim you have an exemption just because you don’t like face coverings.

I don’t have an excuse not to wear a face covering but I have difficulties wearing them

If you feel uncomfortable wearing a face covering or find your glasses mist up when wearing a face covering, you could try different makes and styles to see which one suits you best. There are also ways to wear face coverings and glasses in such a way as to reduce misting.

Where are face coverings required?

Face coverings are required in health and social care settings, whether NHS or private, unless you have an exemption. This is because we still need to protect the workers in these places. We also need to continue to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable. When we refer to health and social care premises, we mean places such as:

  • premises used for the provision of medical, health or dental services,

  • audiology services
  • chiropody services 
  • chiropractic and osteopathic services
  • optometry services
  • physiotherapy services
  • acupuncture services 
  • other medical or health services including services relating to mental health
  • premises used for the provision of a social care service, including:
    • care home services
    • secure accommodation services
    • residential family centre services
    • adult day care services

The face covering requirement does not apply to residents of the social care premises listed when the residents are on the premises.

Types of face covering

For the purpose of reducing the spread of coronavirus, a face covering is something which covers the nose and mouth. You can buy or make reusable face coverings or buy single-use face coverings, and these are generally available. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum of three layers in a face covering.

You could also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering if necessary but these must securely fit round the side of the face. Face coverings like these may not give you the same protection as a three-layer face covering as recommended by the World Health Organization. We would generally recommend a mask-type face covering as preferable.

Emerging evidence suggests that the risk of transmission may be reduced by using thicker fabrics or multiple layers. However, the face covering should still be made of a material that you find to be comfortable and breathable, such as cotton.

How to wear and care for your face covering safely 

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

For all types of face covering, do not touch the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose. You should also prevent it touching surfaces. If eating in a café, for example, it is important you do not place the face covering on the table.

You should also 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).

A well fitted face mask (covering the nose and mouth) using quality materials, will reduce leakage and particle exposure.

How do I safely take my face covering on and off?

When wearing a face covering of any type 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 or underneath your nose
  • 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 of any type:

  • 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
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser once removed

Can children wear face coverings?

Although children under 11 do not need to wear face coverings under the legal requirements, if children wish to wear face coverings this should be under the supervision of an adult. Face coverings for children should be secured to the head using ear loops only. Children under three should not wear face coverings for safety reasons.

Are there clear face coverings available?

Face coverings with a clear plastic window can be made or purchased, with details available from the National Deaf Childrens Society (NDCS). There are also disposable clear face coverings available. As well as helping people who are D/deaf, hearing impaired or living with hearing loss or hearing impairment these may also be helpful when accompanying those that need to see facial expressions (such as people living with dementia or with learning difficulties) or when communicating in noisy places.

To reduce fogging, a thin layer of detergent can be applied to the plastic section before use: wash your hands first, then rub a small drop of liquid soap onto the plastic, or wipe with a detergent wipe.

Clear masks do not provide the same degree of protection as a three layer face covering and so the Welsh Government does not recommend them for use by the general public or where social distancing of 2 metres cannot also be maintained. 

We would also encourage the public or service industry staff to temporarily lower their face covering while maintaining social distancing to communicate with someone who relies on lip-reading or facial expressions or to enable them to talk to someone who is D/deaf, hearing impaired or living with hearing loss or hearing impairment.

Can I ask health or social care staff to wear a clear face covering?

A number of transparent masks for NHS and social care staff have been distributed. These masks aim to enable those who are D/deaf, hearing impaired or living with hearing loss or hearing impairment, to lip read and others to better communicate and feel reassured by seeing facial expressions. 

Can I make my own face covering?

Please see our instructions if you want to make your own face covering. We do not endorse any particular method but be considerate of materials and fabrics that may irritate different skin types.

What type of disposable single-use face covering should I use?

Please avoid medical grade masks. These should be reserved for health and care workers.

Remove your disposable single use face covering carefully – do not touch the front of the face covering or the part of which has been in contact with your mouth and nose.

Please remember to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds or use hand sanitiser immediately after removing your face covering and throwing it away.

Disposable single-use face coverings contain plastic, and therefore have an impact on the environment. You may wish to consider buying or making a washable face covering which can be reused many times and will be cheaper and be better for the environment.

Dispose of the used face covering responsibly in a litter bin or take it home in a plastic bag and put it in your bin. You do not need to put it in a special hazardous waste bin, or double bag it or store it for a time before throwing it away. Do not put disposable single use face coverings in the recycling bin as they can’t be recycled.

Can I wear a visor instead of a face covering?

In the context of the requirements imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, a visor or face shield is not a face covering. It is made of waterproof material, fits loosely over the eyes and extends down such that it may lie over but not cover the nose and mouth. It cannot fit snugly around the nose and mouth as it could impair breathing and may fog. The effectiveness of visors and face shields is unknown at present. They are worn in clinical/care giving settings to protect against large droplet exposure, including by inoculation through the eyes, but when worn outside these settings there is no evidence that face shields/visors protect the wearer or are an effective source control for either larger droplets or small aerosols.

We appreciate that some people speak for a living (such as someone leading worship) and have difficulty making themselves heard when wearing other types of face covering. However, visors are designed to protect the eyes from airborne droplets and are not as effective as face coverings, so extra precautions must be taken when using visors for speaking purposes. If this is not possible a face covering should be worn.

How should I care for my reusable face covering?

If you are using a reusable face covering, store it in a plastic bag until you can wash it.

Wash it in line with manufacturer’s instructions at the highest temperature appropriate for the fabric. You can use your normal detergent and you can wash and dry it with other laundry.

Do not give it to someone else to use.

You must throw away your face covering if it is damaged.

Make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched using normal household cleaning products.

Face coverings at work

Do I have to wear a face covering at work?

There is no universal face coverings guidance for workplaces because of the variety of work environments in different industries. If you work in an indoor public area in health or social care, you will have to wear a face covering (unless you have a reasonable excuse not to). Even though customers of all other indoor public places are no longer required to wear face coverings, it is recommended that staff in such premises continue to wear face coverings.

All employers must undertake a risk assessment for their premises. They can consider whether requiring staff to wear face coverings is a reasonable measure that should be taken in other indoor workplaces. Wearing face coverings are still recommended where physical distancing cannot be maintained, unless there are good reasons not to.

It will be your employer’s responsibility to make sure that the risk assessment for their business addresses the risks of exposure to coronavirus.

What are the rules in premises where only some areas are open to the public?

Face coverings are only required by law in those areas of health and social care settings open to the public.  In other types of indoor premises, it will be up to the operator of the premises to set the rules, taking into account the legal requirement that applies in Wales to take all reasonable measures to minimise exposure to coronavirus and the Welsh Government’s guidance This may include requiring face coverings to be worn in all or part of their premises. You may therefore find you are required to wear a face covering at work even in places which are not open to the public.

I work in close proximity with members of the public but am separated from them by a perspex screen (or similar). Do I still need to wear a face covering?

Not necessarily. Staff working behind plastic screens which give sufficient protection would generally not be considered to be in public areas – the purpose of the screen being to separate them from the public.

However, if there is more than one member of staff working behind the screen and social distancing cannot be maintained, your employer might be expected to require the use of face coverings to be worn unless there was a good reason not to.

How will the requirement be enforced?

The Welsh Government hopes people will understand the reasons for continuing to wear face coverings in certain premises and will do so. The police can issue a fixed penalty for breaches of these requirements. A first offence is punishable by a penalty of £60 (which doubles for each subsequent offence up to a maximum of £1,920). Repeat offenders could also be prosecuted in court where there is no limit to the fine that may be issued.

The legal obligation for members of the public to wear face coverings is imposed on each individual and not on the managers of the premises. However, it is vital the rules are explained to people and they have an opportunity to comply. Wedding venues and hospitality premises that are otherwise exempt may require customers to wear face coverings in all or part of their premises. Managers can make this decision based upon a COVID-19 risk assessment for their premises. If they have identified wearing face coverings as a reasonable measure to be taken, attendees and customers are asked to comply.

Managers of health and social care premises are therefore required to provide information about the legal requirement to wear face coverings to those intending to enter their premises. They should also do this if they have identified wearing face coverings as a reasonable measure for their otherwise exempt premises. This information may be provided in a variety of ways: 

  • Websites should carry specific information on wearing face coverings as part of the conditions of entry and may provide links to other useful websites – for example, showing how to make a face covering and how to wear a face covering properly.
  • Notices advising customers of their legal obligation to wear face coverings should be displayed in a prominent place (in both Welsh and English) whenever feasible (and this is mandatory for transport operators).
  • Managers of premises are not expected to take enforcement action. However, as outlined above, they have a role in explaining what the requirements are, and encouraging visitors and customers to comply with the regulations and wear face coverings. This means that before you enter any indoor public premise, staff may ask you to wear a face covering or adjust your face covering if it is not covering both your nose and mouth; they may also need to confirm if you have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering.
  • Staff should be sensitive to the fact that not all reasons why someone may be exempt are visible and obvious; for example, no person should be required to show a letter from a medical professional about their reason for not wearing a face covering. However, we also ask that customers respect staff and understand that they are doing what they are doing to help. 
  • Managers of premises have a general right to refuse entry if circumstances necessitate it, and they may also call the police to report issues of antisocial behaviour.

Why are face coverings still needed?

What is the purpose of continuing to wear a face covering?

Face coverings are largely intended to protect others, not the wearer, against the spread of infection because they cover the nose and mouth, which are the main confirmed sources of transmission of virus that causes coronavirus infection.

Coronavirus usually spreads by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. These droplets can also be picked up from surfaces, if you touch a surface and then your face without washing your hands first. This is why social distancing, regular hand hygiene, and covering coughs and sneezes is so important in controlling the spread of the virus.

The best available scientific evidence is that, when used correctly, wearing a face covering may reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets in certain circumstances, helping to protect others. This is why we recommend that people continue to wear face coverings voluntarily.

Does wearing a face covering remove the need for social distancing and other hygiene measures?

No. Because face coverings are mainly intended to protect others, not the wearer, from coronavirus, they are not a replacement for social distancing and regular hand washing. It is important to continue to follow all the other Welsh Government advice on coronavirus.

If you have recent onset of any of the most important symptoms of coronavirus:

  • a new continuous cough
  • a high temperature
  • a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of smell or taste (anosmia)
  • you must follow self isolation guidance: wearing a face covering does not change this. You should apply for a test to see if you have COVID-19

We can all take the actions set out below as these work in combination to prevent and limit transmission:

  • get fully vaccinated to protect yourself from COVID-19
  • book a test and self isolate if you have any COVID-19 symptoms, however mild
  • working from home where possible 
  • follow self isolation guidance 
  • adopting the COVID-code, including: 
    • physical distancing from others
    • wearing a well fitted mask
    • meeting outdoors where possible
    • avoiding poorly ventilated or crowded spaces
    • keeping hands clean
    • coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue, then washing your hands

Are face coverings a form of personal protective equipment (PPE)?

No. Face coverings are not classified as PPE which is used in a limited number of settings to protect wearers against hazards and risks, such as surgical masks or respirators used in medical and industrial settings.

If you wish to find out more about the differences between surgical face masks, PPE face masks, and face coverings see the MHRA’s (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) regulatory status of equipment being used to help prevent coronavirus (COVID-19).

Why has the requirement for face coverings been removed for most places?

The Chief Medical Officer for Wales had for some time recommended that people could choose to wear face coverings for the benefit of themselves and to protect others, especially in indoor, poorly-ventilated areas. The rising number of cases in Wales in September 2020 led to our making it a legal requirement in indoor public places including public transport.

Throughout the pandemic, we have worked hard to ensure the protections and measures we have put in place are proportionate to the public health risk we face.

When will you be removing the requirement for wearing a face covering in health and social care settings?

The requirement for face coverings to be worn in health and social care settings is being retained for the time being. The Welsh Ministers are committed to further easing or the removal of remaining restrictions when it is reasonable to do so. We have been able to take significant steps in moving away from complex legal restrictions. The removal of the requirement for face coverings for most indoor public places is part of this process. However, as COVID-19 is still present in the community, we must not abandon all the simple measures that most people can take. Clinically vulnerable people still need to be protected. Many people have to go to health or social care settings, so this is why face coverings are still required in these places.

Wearing face coverings outdoors, where transmission of the virus is low, is not recommended, unless in a situation where social distancing of two metres is not possible.

The regulations are reviewed every 21 days. More can be seen on the Welsh Government’s approach in the latest Coronavirus Control Plan.

What is the scientific basis for requiring face coverings?

Our approach is informed by the latest evidence and its evaluation by the Welsh Government Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

View the most recent summary evaluation by TAG of evidence on face coverings