UK's updated rules on face masks and coverings: What you need to know

·7-min read

Face coverings are mandatory on public transport in England from 15 June.

All hospital staff, outpatients and visitors must also keep their nose and mouth concealed.

As officials gradually ease the UK out of its nationwide lockdown, it is hoped this mandatory measure will help stem the spread of the coronavirus and ward off a dreaded second peak.

Passengers wearing face masks on a train in Newcastle as face coverings become mandatory on public transport in England with the easing of further lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)
Women wear masks on a train in Newcastle. (Getty Images)

How a face covering could ward off the coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends face coverings be worn in public places where maintaining a two metre (6.5ft) social distance is not possible.

It previously claimed there was no evidence a mask or similar fabric barrier wards off a viral respiratory infection, like the coronavirus.

There is evidence, however, people with an airway virus who wear a mask are less likely to pass it on.

According to the WHO, new information suggests coverings may provide “a barrier for potentially infectious droplets”.

The coronavirus mainly spreads face to face via coughs and sneezes.

These may be inhaled or fall onto surfaces, where they could be picked up by a person’s hands.

Those with mild or no symptoms are also thought to be capable of transmitting the coronavirus.

With it being unclear how many patients are asymptomatic, making coverings mandatory may ensure people who feel well are not unwittingly spreading the infection.

Hospital staff are also unable to socially distance from the coronavirus-positive patients they treat.

Being in a confined space with several sufferers may also increase the workers’ viral load, the quantity of virus particles they are exposed to, leading to a more severe infection.

While coverings and masks may be somewhat effective, the WHO has stressed these alone are “insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection and other measures should also be adopted”, like regular hand washing.

Experts have expressed mixed opinions of the benefits of mandatory face coverings.

Dr Antonio Lazzarino from University College London previously said people will continue to touch their face with potentially-contaminated hands.

“Therefore, instead of helping us contain the virus, face coverings may just help the virus spread across the world,” he said.

Professor Trish Greenhalgh from the University of Oxford argued, however, “the science on this is clear: COVID-19 [the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus] is most commonly transmitted by droplets emitted when we cough, sneeze, shout, sing and even just breathe in close proximity to others.

“We can’t stay behind our front doors forever, and nobody wants a second wave of COVID-19, so covering our faces will become the new normal in public places, workplaces and on public transport”.

Who has to wear a face covering on public transport?

To coincide with the gradual easing of lockdown, the majority of people travelling on public transport in England must wear a face covering.

Although Britons are being urged to work from home if they can, children going back to school and the opening of non-essential shops means transport use is expected to increase.

Passengers exempt from these rules are children under 11, people with disabilities, those with breathing difficulties that may be made worse by a covering and anyone who relies on lip reading to communicate.

Experts have warned adherence to a covering or mask is important for them to be effective, with many finding them uncomfortable.

People are permitted to remove the covering if it is “reasonably necessary” for them to eat or drink.

Coverings must only be worn on the bus or tube itself, not in the waiting area.

Train passengers will be asked to cover their face when entering the station, however.

School transport, cruise ships, taxis and private hire vehicles are exempt from the rules. Uber has, however, introduced a “no mask no ride” policy.

Failure to follow the rules could result in refused travel or even a fine, as a last resort.

The rest of the UK is not being as strict.

In Wales, face coverings are encouraged – but not mandatory – in places where social distancing is not possible, like public transport.

Similar advice has been issued in Northern Ireland.

In Scotland, face coverings are recommended on public transport as a precautionary measure.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 15: Commuters wear face masks as they pass through Vauxhall underground station on the first day of their mandatory use while travelling on public transport, on June 15, 2020 in London, England. The British government have relaxed coronavirus lockdown laws significantly from Monday June 15, allowing zoos, safari parks and non-essential shops to open to visitors.  Places of worship will allow individual prayers and protective facemasks become mandatory on London Transport.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Commuters wear masks on the London underground. (Getty Images)

Are face coverings mandatory in shops?

Non-essentials shops will be open in England from 15 June.

Despite being confined spaces, face coverings or masks are not mandatory for staff or customers.

Some retailers are choosing to have their workers wear a covering. Customers are also being encouraged.

All stores must have plastic screens at the tills and floor markings to keep shoppers two metres apart.

Customers are also being asked not to touch items they do not intend to buy.

Some shops are offering hand sanitiser at the entrance, and keeping fitting rooms and toilets closed.

Others are going cash-free, with all transactions carried out on cards and receipts sent electronically.

Who has to wear a face mask in hospital?

All hospital visitors and outpatients in England are being told to wear a face covering, which can be provided by the hospital if needed.

Nobody will be denied care for failing to wear one.

This comes as NHS England has lifted its suspension on hospital visitors, however, the ultimate decision on seeing loved ones comes down to the individual trust.

Health staff already had to wear medical-grade masks in clinical areas within 2m of a patient, with this being expanded to all times in all places.

Passengers wearing face masks on the Jubilee Line in East London as face coverings become compulsory on public transport in England with the easing of further lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)
Passengers wear masks on the London underground. (Getty Images)

What to look for when purchasing a face covering

Government officials have specified passengers are to wear coverings, not masks.

“A medical mask is scratchy and uncomfortable, and isn’t designed to be kept on all day,” Professor Greenhalgh previously said.

Medical masks are recommended, however, for those over 60 or people with underlying health issues.

People with tell-tale coronavirus symptoms – fever, cough and loss of taste or smell – and those caring for them, are also advised to use this extra protection.

For everyone else, the WHO recommends a fabric covering of “at least three layers of different material”.

Official guidance states one can be homemade out of an old T-shirt.

Where to buy a face covering online

Yahoo Lifestyle is committed to finding you the best products at the best prices. We may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Pricing and availability are subject to change.


2 Pack Face Covering In Black | £12

ASOS is selling a range of non-medical face masks. Each mask has a double-layer construction and elasticated strap.

ASOS will donate £1 from every sale, with proceeds going to Oxfam’s Coronavirus Emergency Response Appeal.


Non-Medical Face Covering - Multi | £20

The British high street store has launched a set of three non-medical face masks. Each set has a mystery mix of Boden’s signature prints.

Each mask is made of soft jersey fabric and has an internal wire along the top edge to adjust the fit over your nose.

Little Mistress x Kindred

Pack of 3 Little Mistress x Kindred Face Masks | £19

The Little Mistress x Kindred reusable face masks feature two-layers, which are knitted with antibacterial polyamide yarn.

The brand has a huge array of options, from a three pack that cost £19, to a pack of 50 for £265. The brand also has options for children.

100% of the proceeds after costs go directly to NHS Charities Together.


Set of 3 Sanctuary Organic Cotton Reusable Face Masks | £18

Anthropologie UK is selling a set of organic cotton face masks with elastic ear loops and adjustable metal nose bridge.

All profits from The Sanctuary Face Mask will be donated to NHS Charities Together.

John Lewis

Great British Designer Face Coverings | £15 from John Lewis

The British Fashion Council have teamed up with Bags of Ethics to manufacture sustainable and reusable non-medical face coverings to use alongside existing social distancing measures.

This high-fashion pack contains three reusable face coverings and two protective pouches from internationally acclaimed British designers; Mulberry, RÆBURN, and Halpern.


Adult Hype 3 Pack Face Mask Set | £24.99 from Hype

Leicester-based fashion brand, Hype, sell its own branded face masks. Available in both multipack and single options, the adult masks are made from 100% cotton on the back and 70% cotton, 30% polyester on the front.

The brand also recently launched knit masks for adults that are designed to be more comfortable made from Elastomeric, Polyester and Diolen Hygienic Poly.

You can find a full list of where to buy a face mask in the UK here.

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