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Where and when are face coverings compulsory?

Girl wearing a face mask
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Updated 5th Jan 2021 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information.

With a national lockdown in England, now's the time to get acquainted with government guidance, particularly when it comes to face masks and coverings.

Please note: guidance is designed for people living in England. If you are living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should follow local guidance, which you can find below. 

On public transport

In England, wearing a face covering is currently a legal requirement for anyone travelling on public transport. Wearing a face covering on public transport is also mandatory in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you’re going to travel on the train, bus, London Underground or any other type of public transport, you will need to use a face covering, as the law will be enforced by transport officers and the police.

A face covering can be anything that covers your nose and mouth while allowing you to breathe – it might be as simple as a bandana or a scarf that you can tie behind your head. The term “face covering” is used by the government to differentiate from protective face masks used by healthcare workers.

If you don’t have a face covering, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to travel. If you manage to access public transport without a covering, you may be stopped by officers and fined (in England, the fine is up to £200).

At hospitals

If you’re attending a hospital as a visitor or outpatient you will need to wear a face covering. It’s strongly advised that all visitors or patients enter hospital grounds with a face covering of their own. However, in emergencies, hospitals will be able to supply a face covering.

Travelling by plane

In England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, wearing a face covering is mandatory when travelling by plane. You should wear a face covering when you’re in the airport and terminals. 

In shops and other public indoor spaces

In England, it is a legal requirement to wear a face mask or covering while you’re in a shop or another enclosed space. If you can’t safely socially distance from other people while you are indoors, covering your face is the best way to protect yourself and others.

In England face coverings are mandatory in:

  • Shops and supermarkets
  • Taxis and private hire vehicles
  • Pubs and restaurants except when eating or drinking
  • Shopping centres and indoor markets
  • Auction houses
  • Public transport and transport hubs
  • Hospitals and GP surgeries
  • Post offices
  • Premises providing financial, legal and professional services such as banks and building societies
  • Vets
  • Visitor attractions such as museums, cinemas, bingo halls and theme parks
  • Libraries
  • Places of worship
  • Funeral service providers
  • Community centres, youth centres and social clubs
  • Public areas in hostels and hotels

You can view a full list of when to wear a face mask and the government advises that people wear them whenever they are in a space where it is difficult to maintain safe social distancing and there are people you don't normally meet i.e. you cannot keep two metres away from other people. 

Please note: guidance is designed for people living in England. If you are living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should follow local guidance.

At work

For healthcare workers, face masks and other protective equipment are mandatory as per guidelines. For workers in non-healthcare settings, covering your face may be advised, but not a mandatory requirement. Instead, the focus remains on social distancing and good hygiene.

As an example, public transport workers in England are not required to wear face coverings, but they are advised to when they cannot maintain social distancing.

Meeting people indoors

At the moment you mustn't meet indoors with family or friends unless they're part of your household or support bubble. 

Meeting people outdoors

You can exercise or meet in a public, outdoors space with:

  • people you live with
  • your support bubble (or as part of a childcare bubble)
  • or with one other person

You don’t have to wear a face mask when in outdoor spaces. 

Please note: guidance is designed for people living in England. If you are living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should follow local guidance.


If you’re self-isolating, you should not leave your home at all. Even if you wear a face covering or mask when you leave the house, this will not provide sufficient protection for the people around you.

You should stay home for 10 days (depending on your circumstances) and have food and medicine delivered to your door. While you are self-isolating you should not allow anyone into your home who doesn’t live there, and you should not exercise outside of your home. 

If you're displaying symptoms, you can get a free NHS test or you can request a Coronavirus (COVID-19) swab test kit from LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.

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If in doubt, wear a face covering

If you’re concerned about the spread of COVID-19, it’s a good idea to get into the habit of wearing a face covering such as a face mask whenever you’re out in public and can’t maintain safe social distancing. You can easily make your own face covering or buy face masks from LloydsPharmacy.