Face coverings: guidance for public

What is the legal requirement?

Face coverings must be worn in all indoor public places. This includes on public transport and taxis, and in places where food and drink is served, other than when you are seated to eat or drink.

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.

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 disability or impairment;
  • You are accompanying somebody who relies on lip reading where they need to communicate; or
  • 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;
  • You are asked to do so by shop 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 disability 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.

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

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 the requirement applies

Where are face coverings required?

Face coverings are required in all indoor public places and on public transport (including taxis). This includes a very wide range of locations, such as shops and shopping centres, places of worship, hairdressers and salons, cinemas and museums, gyms and leisure centres, and anywhere that is open to members of the public. It also includes anywhere you go to eat or drink, like restaurants, pubs or cafes (until you are seated).

It would also include any public areas within buildings that are otherwise closed to the public – for example a reception area of an office building.

Are there any indoor public places where you don’t need to wear a face covering?

The only indoor public areas where face coverings will not be required are when you are seated to eat or drink, for example in cafés, restaurants and pubs. Face coverings must be worn when entering such premises and while waiting to be served at a counter (in a café, for example) or to be seated; they must also be worn when moving around, such as when going to toilets or when leaving.

Where food and drink is only being served for consumption in part of the premises – for example, a café, which also offers take away services or a coffee shop in a department store – you will need to wear a face covering in the parts of the premises where people are not eating or drinking. This includes premises such as cinemas, bingo halls, casinos and bowling alleys.

What about schools?

Schools and childcare settings are not public places. The decision about whether face coverings should be worn in secondary schools and where will be a local decision for the school to make, depending on their assessment of the risk and in the context of local circumstances.

What about exercising and using the gym?

Gyms and leisure centres are indoor public places so you will need to wear a face covering when you go there and you will need to keep it on depending on what you are doing. If you are preparing to exercise, changing or undertaking any activity that isn’t strenuous, especially when in close contact with other people, you will need to wear a face covering.

However, there may be circumstances where the layout of the premises and the nature of the exercise you are doing mean that it would not be reasonable to expect you to wear a face covering. The World Health Organisation advises against wearing a face covering when exercising as sweat can make a face covering become wet more quickly, making it difficult to breathe and promoting the growth of microorganisms. It advises the important preventative measure during exercise is to maintain physical distance from others.

Gym and leisure centre operators will be expected to give you further information about the systems put in place and what you will be expected to do.

Do staff working in indoor premises, for example, shop workers, have to wear face coverings?

Yes, if they are in an area accessible to the public. Face coverings are required in any indoor public space. This applies to staff working in those public spaces as well as members of the public.

What about places that are not open to the public?

The Welsh Government considers that if physical distancing cannot be maintained, then employers should require the use of face coverings in other indoor workplaces as a reasonable measure to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus on the premises, unless there are strong reasons not to. You may therefore find you are required to wear a face covering at work even in places which are not open to the public.

Types of face covering

What do you mean by a 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 or single-use face coverings. 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 but these must securely fit round the side of the face and may not give you the same protection as a three-layer face covering as recommended by the World Health Organization.

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.

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.

I want or need to use a face covering, but do not want to use a single use one containing plastic. How can I do this?

Disposable single-use face coverings contain plastic. If you are concerned about the environmental impact of using one of these, you can buy or make a washable face covering or mask. But you then need to wash it after each use.

How to make a 3 layer face covering

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

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

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.

Can I wear a clear face mask?

We recognise the difficulties face coverings present to people who are Deaf or hearing-impaired and are reliant on being able to lip read. Anyone accompanying somebody who relies on lip reading where they need to communicate would be classed as having a reasonable excuse to not wear a face covering.

The only face coverings we would recommend for the general public consist of three layers as recommended by the World Health Organisation. However, it is the decision of an individual whether to use a clear mask rather than remove their face covering to assist a Deaf person.

We are currently working with NHS Wales to arrange the distribution of transparent masks to NHS staff, which will enable those who are Deaf or hearing impaired to lip read.

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 only using visors for speaking purposes. If this is not possible a face covering should be worn.

How to wear and care for your face covering safely

How should it be worn?

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).

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 make 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.

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.

I only have a single-use face covering. How can I dispose of it responsibly?

Remove the 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.

Dispose of the used face covering responsibly.  You do not need to put it in a special hazardous waste bin.   If you aren’t at home, place your face covering in a litter bin or take it home in a plastic bag and put it in your bin. Do not litter as it can damage the environment.

If you are at home, put it in your household waste bin.

Do not put single use face coverings in the recycling bin as they can’t be recycled.

You do not need to put them in an extra bag or store them for a time before throwing them away.

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.

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, you will definitely have to wear a face covering (unless you have a reasonable excuse not to).

However, even if you do not work in an indoor public area, all employers must consider whether requiring staff to wear face coverings is a reasonable measure that should be taken in other indoor workplaces. Wearing face coverings will be necessary 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 open to the public. Elsewhere on the 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.

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 would be expected to require the use of face coverings unless there was a good reason not to.

How will the requirement be enforced?

The Welsh Government hopes people will understand the reasons for wearing face coverings and will do so. The police and local authorities 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.

Managers of premises are therefore required to provide information about the legal requirement to wear face coverings to those intending to enter their 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 needed?

What is the purpose of wearing 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.

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 follow all the other government advice on coronavirus including staying safe outside your home.

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 and your household must isolate at home: wearing a face covering does not change this. You should apply for a test to see if you have COVID-19.

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 have face coverings been made mandatory, and why were they not mandatory earlier?

The introduction of mandatory face coverings in Wales from the 14 September was in direct response to the increase in cases of coronavirus nationwide and the emergence of a number of hotspot areas, particularly in the South Wales valleys.

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 led to our making it a legal requirement in indoor public places including public transport.

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 impossible.

What is the scientific basis for this decision?

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

Tags: Covid-19, News

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