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Coronavirus: What are the rules for face masks or face coverings?

By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionPresident Biden has been seen wearing two masks

New research from the US suggests wearing two masks at the same time could give better protection against coronavirus and prevent air leaks.

Face coverings reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking, but they must be a good fit.

Face covering, mask or both?

With new, more contagious variants of the virus circulating, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says people may have a better fit and more protection if they wear two masks at the same time.

Other tips for the wearer include:

  • Choose a mask or face covering with a nose wire
  • Check it fits snugly over the mouth, nose and chin
  • Make sure it has at least a couple of layers
  • Tie a knot in the ear loops of surgical masks to make a better fit

The highest level of protection is provided by FFP3 (or similar) masks worn by healthcare workers in high risk settings to safely do their job.

In some countries, such as Germany and Austria, medical-grade masks (such as disposable surgical ones) are compulsory on public transport and in shops.

These are made from non-woven fabric, which is better at stopping spray and droplets.

media captionWhich face covering is best to wear?

Cloth face coverings do not give the wearer as much protection.

But the World Health Organization says it has no plans to change its guidance recommending fabric face masks for the general public.

Why should I wear a mask?

The main purpose of face coverings is to protect other people from coronavirus, rather than yourself. If everyone wears one, the risk for all goes down.

When worn correctly, they should cover the nose and mouth – the main confirmed sources of transmission.

They can help to reduce the spread of the virus from people who are contagious, including those who have no symptoms.

Where must they be worn in the UK?

Face coverings (or masks) are now compulsory across the UK on public transport and in most indoor public spaces.

The exact rules can be seen here for:

People can be refused travel for not following the rules, or fined. In England and Northern Ireland the police can issue a £200 fine. In Scotland and Wales, a £60 fine can be imposed. Repeat offenders face bigger fines.

Does everyone have to wear one?

  • Children (under 11 in England or Wales, under 13 in Northern Ireland, under five in Scotland)
  • Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or disability
  • People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress
  • Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate

You can remove your mask if:

  • You need to eat, drink, or take medication
  • A police officer or other official asks you to, or for shop staff to verify your age
  • You are entering a shop to avoid harm, if you do not have a mask on you

Young children should not wear face masks because of the risk of choking and suffocation.

Do you have to prove if you are exempt?

There are no official exemption cards or badges, although the government provides some suggested templates which people can use if they wish.

What are the face-covering rules in schools?

image copyrightPA Media

However, each nation has different rules:

  • In England, secondary schools can require face coverings in communal areas, where social distancing is not possible and they can be mandatory if local restrictions require them
  • The Scottish government says all secondary school pupils should wear face coverings in corridors and communal areas, and senior pupils (years S4-S6) and their teachers must wear them in class
  • All staff in Scottish schools must wear masks where social distancing is not possible
  • In Wales, face coverings are recommended in high schools when social distancing is “unlikely to be maintained”
  • In Northern Ireland, face coverings must be worn in the corridors of post-primary schools
media captionStop your glasses steaming up with a mask on

Can I make one myself?

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

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