Should I still wear a face mask or covering and what are the rules?

By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online

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Wearing a mask will no longer be legally required in most places in England from 19 July.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson says it will be a matter of “personal responsibility”.

How are the rules on face masks changing?

Nearly all remaining Covid restrictions in England will be removed on 19 July – subject to confirmation on 12 July.

But official advice will say face coverings should still be worn, as a voluntary measure.

What have scientists and doctors said?

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said they will continue to wear face coverings:

  • indoors, in any situation which is crowded, or where people are close together
  • if asked to by any “competent authority”
  • if someone else was uncomfortable, as a “common courtesy”
media captionProf Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance explain when they’ll still use face masks

The British Medical Association, which represents doctors, said it makes no sense to stop wearing face coverings in enclosed public spaces.

How will travel, shopping and events in England be affected?

Businesses have been considering what they will do:

Can shops, businesses and travel companies insist I wear a face covering?

It is likely they could – and even refuse you service, or the right to travel.

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

If you took your mask off once inside a building or train, for example, staff would have the right to ask you to leave.

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However, they would not be able to discriminate against protected characteristics, as outlined in the Equality Act 2010.

So, if you are currently exempt from wearing a mask, companies would probably have to continue to honour that exemption, says Mr Wagner.

What about the rest of the UK?

Why use a face covering?

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 from Covid, rather than yourself. If everyone wears one, the risks drop for all.

Masks can also help reduce virus spread from people who may be contagious but have no symptoms.

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

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 (tie knots in the ear loops of surgical masks if necessary)

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

Trained staff need to fit them correctly. They are worn in conjunction with other personal protective equipment (gloves, aprons, eye protection).

Staff wearing standard issue surgical masks, as recommended in official guidance for most situations, 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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