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Where and when are face coverings compulsory?

Girl wearing a face mask
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Updated 16th August 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?

Face masks are no longer compulsory or 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 recommended 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.

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.

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 wearing a face covering is expected and recommended when travelling by plane. You should wear a face covering when you’re in the airport and terminals. Make sure to check the airline you're travelling with for their face covering policies. 

In shops and other public indoor spaces

In England, it's recommended that you wear a face mask or covering while you’re in an enclosed and crowded space. If you're coming into contact with people you don't normally meet, covering your face is the best way to protect yourself and others.

    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 there are people you don't normally meet.

    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. 

    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 recommended 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, however you should:

    • limit the close contact you have with those you do not usually live with, and increase close contact gradually

    Meeting people outdoors

    It's safer to meet people outdoors, but 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.

    The self-isolating guidance varies depending on your age, vaccination status and where you live. In England please follow the below advice:

    •  If you’re displaying symptoms you should complete a PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate until the test comes back.
    • If your result is negative, you don’t need to self-isolate
    • If the test is positive or unclear you should self-isolate for 10 days from the day of onset of the symptoms
    • If you don’t have symptoms and test positive, you should continue to self-isolate for 10 days
    • If you live with (or are in a support bubble with) someone who has tested positive or had an unclear result you should self-isolate unless you are fully vaccinated (having received the second vaccine dose at least 14 days previously), or under the age of 18 years and 6 months old

    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.

    COVID-19 swab test banner

    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. 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's 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.