Health

Here's Where You Are (& Aren't) Required By Law To Wear A Face Mask In The UK

A breakdown of the rules in England, Scotland, Wales, & Northern Ireland.

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By Bustle UK
Updated: 

Lockdown is easing: shops, nail bars, restaurants, and even gyms have been given a tentative green-light by the UK government as the number of COVID-19 cases appears to be gradually shrinking. Yet as social distancing measures are now enforced in most establishments to prevent the continued spread of the virus, many wonder if face masks are now compulsory in the UK?

Throughout the pandemic, politicians and scientists have been conflicted about the effectiveness of face masks. At the time of writing (July 23), the UK government website states: "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."

During a Facebook Q&A that took place on July 10, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said scientific opinion has "shifted" in favour of face coverings and, four days later, it was announced that they would become mandatory in shops in England from July 24 onwards. In fact, if shoppers are caught without they could face a £100 fine.

The new announcement indicates the government may be pivoting towards stricter rules when it comes to public spaces, which has left people curious about where else in the UK it is currently mandatory to wear a face mask.

Public Transport

England

From Monday, June 15, it became compulsory to wear face masks for those traveling on public transport in England. Per the government website, people must wear a non-medical face covering "at all times" on buses and trains. This includes planes and private hire taxis. Due to being in an enclosed space for a long period of time, the government warned "there is a greater risk of the spread of the virus and social distancing is likely to be difficult to follow consistently."

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, wearing face coverings on public transport became mandatory on July 10.

Scotland

Scotland's Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon made face-coverings compulsory, by law, "in retail environments" as well as on public transport and public transport premises, such as airports, train and bus stations

Wales

Following advice from the World Health Organisation and its own Technical Advisory Group, Wales recommends, "rather than mandate" the use of "three-layer face coverings on worn on public transport."

Retail

England

After much discussion from government ministers and mounting pressure from the public, it was announced that from July 24 onwards it will be mandatory to wear a face mask or covering when you’re at the shops. The government said enforcement of this new rule will be down to the police but shop workers are expected to comply and promote it.

Northern Ireland

Back in May, Northern Ireland health minister stated "their use will not be mandatory" yet, as of July, officials say they are keeping the "issue of face coverings under continuous review."

Scotland

Meanwhile, in Scotland "people must – by law – wear a face-covering in retail environments," yet not in "hospitality premises such as cafes, coffee shops, restaurants or pubs."

Wales

In Wales, they currently only recommend face masks if shops are overcrowded. Yet, the Welsh Government is "continuing to look" at the evidence on whether face coverings should be mandatory in public places. Plaid Cymru’s leader, Adam Price said things need to “go further and faster" on face coverings and they need to be made mandatory in shops.

Hospitals

England

During the pandemic, hospitals have reduced the number of visitors to help stop the spread of COVID-19, especially to vulnerable patients (more on the NHS website). On June 5, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said "all hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings" to help protect patients and NHS staff who are more vulnerable to catching the virus.

Northern Ireland

Since July 6 people have been able to visit loved ones in hospitals or attend appointments with the condition that they wear a mask or face covering. Health Minister Robin Swann said, “I understand that the temporary restrictions on visiting have been a particularly difficult consequence of COVID-19. However they were necessary in limiting the spread of the virus. I am acutely aware that there are many families yearning to see a loved one, either in hospital or in our care homes.”

Scotland

Advice from the government on June 23 outlined that any hospital worker or people entering a hospital should wear a face covering, for their safety and the safety of patients. The same guidance applies to care homes.

Wales

According to guidance released by Public Health Wales, all health and social care staff should wear a medical mask in settings where direct care is provided within two metres. However, if they’re following hygiene standards and not providing direct care they don’t need to wear a mask. Similarly, hospital visits have been seriously limited but visitors don’t have to wear a mask.

Pharmacies

England

The government has previously advised that where social distancing is difficult the public should wear face masks. This applies to pharmacies. However, pharmacies presumably fall under the same 'shops' category (though there's no clear guidance on this), so from July 24, it's probably safest to assume that a face covering is mandatory.

Northern Ireland

Wearing a face mask in enclosed spaces, which includes a pharmacy, is recommended but not mandatory. Officials have also reminded people that they shouldn’t get a false sense of security just because they’re wearing a mask and should still practice social distancing.

Scotland

It’s been mandatory for people in Scotland to wear masks in shops since July 10 and community pharmacies fell under this criteria. The public are required by law to wear masks in enclosed spaces.

Wales

Currently in Wales it’s not mandatory to wear a face covering in pharmacies. However, officials have said that "in some circumstances where it might be difficult to stay two meters away from others, we are advising the use of three-layer, non-medical face coverings.”

Pubs & Restaurants

England

Due to the practicalities of eating and drinking, people won’t be expected to wear face masks in pubs, restaurants, and cafés. Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky (via the Sun), “We're not ... mandating the wearing of masks in pubs and restaurants, because obviously people have got to eat." However, people will still be expected to socially distance where they can.

Northern Ireland

There are currently no rules on face masks in pubs and restaurants. However, people are encouraged to maintain distance between other people not in their household and many establishments are working on table service only.

Scotland

Under Nicola Sturgeon's new lockdown easing rules, people will have to hand over their contact details to trace outbreaks. Music won’t be played in the background so people don’t shout and staff may need to wear face coverings.

Wales

Pubs, bars, restaurants, and cafés have reopened in Wales but only to serve customers outside. While customers won’t have to wear a mask, they will be expected to maintain social distancing rules.

Takeaway Food and Drinks

England

A slight caveat to the restaurant and pub rule is that, if you’re going into a place to order, pay, and takeaway food or drink, then you’ll need to wear a mask from July 24. This includes coffee shops.

Northern Ireland

Currently there are no changes in the rulings on face masks when you’re getting takeaway food or coffee in Northern Ireland. You don’t have to wear one but it’s advised you keep your distance from other people and wash your hands regularly.

Scotland

It’s mandatory to wear face coverings and masks in shops in Scotland, including takeaway establishments.

Wales

Currently, you don’t need to wear a face mask or covering when you order, pick up, and pay for a takeaway in Wales.

Taxis

England

The Department of Transport has advised that you should wear a face mask when travelling in a taxi. Uber has made it compulsory for both drivers and passengers to wear masks during trips.

Northern Ireland

Officials have advised that you wear a face mask when travelling in a taxi in Northern Ireland. However, no formal decision as to whether they should be mandatory has been made yet.

Scotland

Scotland’s ruling that face masks are mandatory on public transport extends to taxis and ferries.

Wales

The ruling that it's advisable to wear face masks on public transport extends to taxis in Wales. However some drivers are sceptical that their customers will wear one.

Beauty salons, Hairdressers, & Tattoo parlours

England

At present, customers at beauty salons, hairdressers, and tattoo parlours are not required to wear a face covering by law, however there are strict rules regarding workers providing the services and the PPE they must wear. “There is no requirement for the client to wear any additional protection such as a mask or face covering, when the practitioner is wearing a visor,” the government’s guidance states. However, it is important to check in with your chosen establishment prior to your appointment, as many places are individually asking clients to wear a face covering throughout their treatment.

Northern Ireland

Those in Northern Ireland have not been given specific rules regarding face coverings in these settings, but instead have been told to refer to the guidelines set out in England, in the Government’s Close Contact Services document.

Scotland

Scotland’s rules are a little stricter, and customers of beauty salons and hairdressers must wear a face covering during their treatment. This is a mandatory requirement, rather than an optional choice unlike in other areas of the UK. Regarding tattoo parlours, there is no specific advice, but given that the current Scottish law regarding face coverings is the following, it is presumably required, or at least recommended: “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.”

Wales

As ITV News sets out, there is currently no legal requirement to wear a mask at establishments such as hairdressers and beauty salons, but like in England and Northern Ireland, they are encouraged in spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained. Specific salons and parlours will have their own rules too, so phone ahead to check whether you need to wear a face mask for your appointment.

Offices

England

Those returning to work in offices are currently not required by law to wear a face mask or covering, but can do so if they wish as it is optional and down to the individual. Office managers and owners are told they must support employees choosing to wear a face mask. If you are going to be in an environment where social distancing is less possible, such as a smaller office, wearing a face covering is highly recommended in England.

Northern Ireland

Residents of Northern Ireland are told to refer to the guidelines set out in England by the UK government regarding the use of face masks in office environments. It is therefore optional for workers currently, but not required by law.

Scotland

There is no clear advice about whether you must wear a face mask in the office in Scotland, as it is not currently listed as a space where they are mandatory. However as with other enclosed indoor spaces in the country, face coverings are encouraged where distancing cannot be adhered to.

Wales

Face covering requirements do not currently cover offices, but again, those in any space where social distancing is less possible are encouraged to wear a mask as an extra precaution.

What Happens If I Break The Face Covering Rules?

England

Shoppers caught without a face mask and fail to comply with the rule could face a fine of up to £100. This may be reduced if it’s paid within 14 days. Children under the age of 11, people with disabilities, and people with breathing difficulties are exempt from wearing a mask. It isn’t mandatory for workers to wear a mask but it’s recommended.

If you’re caught not wearing a mask on public transport you will receive a fine of £100.

Northern Ireland

Since July 10, it’s been a legal requirement to wear a face covering or mask on public transport. On July 2, the Group Chief Executive of Translink (Northern Ireland's public transport operator) Chris Conway told Belfast Live, "We do hope people will comply with this new regime as this simple act could save lives if we all do it together. This will be a legal requirement under the COVID-19 Public Health Legislation; however, we hope that enforcement won’t be necessary. If it is, we will work with the relevant bodies."

Scotland

As part of Scotland's next phase of easing, it’s now legally mandatory to wear a mask in retail spaces and on public transport. However, it has not been made clear how these rules are being enforced. On June 23, Nicola Sturgeon said: "I would hope that the police don’t have to impose fixed penalty notices or get involved in an enforcement capacity because I really want people to do it for their own protection and for protection of people that are around them."

Wales

Due to the fact that wearing a face mask is recommended rather than mandated in Wales, there’s no current fines or penalties in place.

If you or someone you’ve been in close contact with appears to have shown or be showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, visit the NHS website in the UK to find out the next steps you should take or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

Contributions from L'Oréal Blackett, Rebecca Fearn, & Alice Broster.