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

By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online

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Secondary school pupils in England will no longer be required to wear face masks in class from 17 May, the Government has confirmed.

Twice-weekly home testing will still be recommended, however, to help spot and prevent infections.

Around the UK, different rules on face coverings apply.

What are the rules on masks at school?

In England, at present, they are required in communal areas and classrooms in secondary schools where social distancing of 2m is not possible, but that rule will be scrapped from next week.

  • In Scotland, staff and pupils in secondary schools should wear face coverings in classrooms, communal areas and corridors
  • 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 and on public and school transport

What about in other settings?

Face coverings and masks reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking.

Currently, people in the UK are asked to wear them where social distancing is not possible and the virus could easily pass between people – for example on public transport, or in shops.

Cutting transmission is important because there is still lots of the virus circulating and many people are yet to be protected by vaccination.

The exact rules can be seen here for:

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

Will we have to keep wearing them?

Once more people have had a vaccine and more is known about how they affect the transmission of Covid, other measures to limit its spread can be reviewed, the government says.

This will include the wearing of face masks or coverings. They might still be needed in some circumstances and particularly during winter, however.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he hopes they would become the norm on public transport as a matter of “personal responsibility”.

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.

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

Face covering, mask or both?

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.

Who is exempt from wearing face masks?

  • 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

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

Can I make one myself?

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

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