What are the rules and guidance for face masks and coverings?

By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online

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Face coverings are no longer legally required in England.

But that's not the end of masks. Other parts of the UK have different rules and some shops and transport will still require them.

What is the law on masks?

Face coverings must still be worn in other parts of the UK:

  • In Scotland, masks must still be worn in shops and on public transport - as well as pubs and restaurants when not seated. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said such rules will remain in place "in all likelihood" for some time
  • In Wales, masks are still legally required in all public indoor areas, apart from when seated to eat or drink. If there is a move to alert level zero on 7 August, masks will still be required in most public places and on public transport
  • In Northern Ireland from 26 July (if approved) face coverings will no longer be compulsory in places of worship, or for students in school classrooms. They must still be worn on public transport and in shops and hospitality venues

Why are rules different for some transport and shops?

Businesses and travel operators can set their own rules for customers and passengers.

For example, Transport for London requires face covering for travel on its services, like the Underground and buses.

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In some areas there could be different rules depending on which transport you are using.

For example, in Greater Manchester, mayor Andy Burnham requires face coverings on trams. He also wants them to be worn on other city transport like buses, but these are privately run.

Other operators have announced plans:

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Some shops have announced they still want shoppers to wear masks, including Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waterstones.

What if I am exempt from wearing a mask?

Most people could be refused service, entry or the right to travel if a firm enforces a requirement to wear a face covering.

Companies decide their own health and safety measures and insisting on masks could be a reasonable rule, says Adam Wagner, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.

However, they would not be able to discriminate. So, if you are currently exempt from wearing a mask - for example if you have breathing difficulties - companies would probably have to continue to honour that exemption, says Mr Wagner.

What have scientists and doctors said?

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors is calling for the continued use of masks.

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance have said they will continue to wear them.

media captionProf Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance explain when they'll still use face masks

Why use a face covering?

Evidence suggests transmission mainly happens indoors where people are close together.

Face coverings worn over the nose and mouth reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

The main purpose is to protect others. If everyone wears one, the risks drop for all.

There is some evidence they offer protection to wearers, but are not a replacement for social distancing and hand-washing.

Masks can also help reduce virus spread from contagious people with no symptoms.

Cutting virus transmission is important because many people are not fully vaccinated.

Also, some new virus variants appear more transmissible.

What sort of face covering is best?

Make sure it:

  • has a nose wire
  • has at least two/three layers of material
  • fits snugly over mouth, nose and chin

The highest level of protection is provided by FFP3 (or similar) masks worn by healthcare workers in high risk settings. A recent study found FFP3 masks provided up to 100% protection against Covid.

Hospital staff wearing standard surgical masks were much more likely to catch the virus.

Members of the public can buy FFP3 masks, but they won't provide the highest protection unless fitted correctly.

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