What are the latest rules for face coverings and masks?

By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online

Related Topics
Image source, Reuters

People in England will no longer be legally required to wear face masks from next week, although they will still be recommended in some settings.

The change is part of the prime minister's wider announcement to end Plan B coronavirus measures in England.

How are the rules changing in England?

  • from Thursday 20 January, face masks will no longer be required in secondary school classrooms, and the Department for Education will shortly remove guidance on their use in communal areas
  • face coverings will not be legally required in any setting from Thursday 27 January
  • the government "recommends" that people wear face coverings in enclosed or private spaces, but this will be a personal judgement
  • however masks will remain mandatory on all TfL services including the Tube, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said

What are the current mask rules across the UK?

The new advice ends a requirement for secondary school pupils - but not teachers - to wear masks in classrooms. Staff and visitors have also been advised to cover up in communal areas of any school.

England's current rules also require everyone aged 11 and over to wear face coverings in most public indoor venues and on public transport.

This includes places such as shops, hairdressers and taxis, but (unlike the rest of the UK) not pubs, cafes and restaurants, or gyms and leisure centres.

In Scotland, masks must be worn in most indoor public spaces including public transport, shops and gyms (although they can be temporarily removed when exercising).

They must be worn in pubs and restaurants when not seated, and in the workplace in communal areas and canteens.

They are compulsory for all school staff as well as secondary school pupils and are required in indoor public spaces in universities.

Like England, under-12s are exempt.

In Northern Ireland, post-primary pupils must wear face coverings inside school buildings, as must staff if they can't socially distance.

Masks aren't required in gyms or other exercise venues.

However, people no longer have to show proof of exemption if they're not wearing a mask.

Under-13s don't have to wear masks in public indoor places, and primary school pupils are exempt from the rules on public transport.

In Wales, masks are required on public transport and in all indoor public places, including pubs and cafes unless you're sitting down. They are required in gyms although can be removed while you're exercising.

Secondary school pupils are asked to wear masks in class.

The guidance in Wales applies to everyone aged 11 or over.

Across the UK there are exemptions for people who can't wear face coverings for medical reasons.

How much can I be fined for not wearing a mask?

In England, Transport for London (TfL) officers and police can currently fine people £200 for their first offence. This drops to £100 if paid within 14 days.

The penalty doubles for each subsequent offence, with no discount for quick payment. So, a second penalty would be £400, a third £800, up to a maximum of £6,400.

In Wales, the penalty for a first offence is £60, with the fine doubling for each subsequent offence - up to a maximum of £1,920. Repeat offenders can also be prosecuted in court where fines are unlimited.

In Scotland, the police can issue a penalty notice of up to £60 for breaking the law on mask-wearing.

Why use a face covering?

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

Covering the nose and mouth reduces the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and while speaking.

The main purpose is to protect others although there is some evidence they offer protection to wearers.

What sort of face covering is best?

It should:

  • have a nose wire
  • have at least two or three layers of material
  • fit snugly over mouth, nose and chin

Standard surgical masks are acceptable. It is also possible to buy FFP2 and FFP3 masks used by healthcare workers which offer higher protection. However, these must be fitted correctly to work.