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Where and when are face coverings compulsory?

Girl wearing a face mask
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Updated 17th May 2021 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information.

With restrictions easing 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. 

What is the difference between compulsory and mandatory?

When it comes to wearing face coverings there are certain places where they’re compulsory and some where they’re mandatory. Compulsory and mandatory mean the same thing - required by law and necessary. So essentially where you see this language around face coverings it means they’re a necessary requirement. 

Shop face masks

Am I exempt from wearing a face mask?

There are some people that are exempt from wearing a face coverings such as children, to find out if you’re exempt check the Government website here.

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.

Do shop workers have to wear a mask?

The Government states that face coverings must be worn by retail, leisure and hospital staff who work in indoor settings such as shops, restaurants and banks. For a full list of indoor settings and staff that must wear a face mask click here.

How to stay safe in shops

The government has issued guidance to shops in England on how to keep staff and customers safe. The guidance is to stay home as much as possible but essential services will be open.

You may find that shops you visit have put in place the following changes:

  • Limiting the number of customers who can enter at one time
  • Encouraging customers to shop on their own
  • Making hand sanitiser available to customers as they enter and exit
  • Arranging the shop floor-plan to control the flow of traffic
  • Making it mandatory to wear face coverings
  • Offering Click&Collect options

These changes are designed to keep customers safe by reducing congestion and enabling adequate social distancing. If you visit a shop and it has not put these kinds of changes in place and – as a result – the space is crowded, you may choose to shop elsewhere.

In any case, while shopping it’s mandatory that you wear a face covering. You should also stay away from other shoppers, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands with water and soap thoroughly once you get home.

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 can meet friends and family indoors either:

  • in a group of up to 6 from any number of households (children of all ages count towards the limit of 6)
  • in a group of any size from up to two households (each household can include an existing support bubble, if eligible)

Meeting people outdoors

It's safer to meet people outdoors, but you don’t have to wear a face mask when in outdoor spaces. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 30 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.


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.

Where to get face masks or coverings

You can buy face masks online from LloydsPharmacy. We sell single-use disposable masks and reusable masks, which can be washed with your normal laundry. You can also make your own face covering using this guide produced by Public Health England.

You can use a face mask you have bought or made such as a bandana or scarf that can cover your nose and mouth, and tie around the back of your head. Just make sure that you can breathe comfortably while you are wearing it.

How to wear a face mask or covering 

Before you put on your mask you should wash your hands. While wearing it, avoid touching your face or the front of the mask.

When you get home you should take off the mask and wash your hands and any surfaces that the mask has touched.

If it is a reusable mask, it should be washed regularly using normal laundry detergent. Masks designed for single use should be thrown away once you have worn them.