Coronavirus and COVID-19

Should I wear a face covering?

Wearing a face covering may reduce the risk of spreading infection by protecting people you come into contact with. Face coverings do not replace social distancing or handwashing.

If you can, you’re encouraged to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing isn’t possible or when you come into contact with people you do not normally meet. In some of the nations, wearing face coverings is mandatory in some situations. For example, on public transport in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It’s also mandatory in Scotland to wear a face covering in shops. There is different guidance in Wales.

In all 4 nations, you must now wear a face covering when seeing a health care professional – for example, in a GP surgery or hospital. The surgery or hospital will provide a mask if you don’t have one and can wear one.

But if you have a lung condition that makes you breathless and find wearing a face covering makes you feel too breathless, the governments in all nations have said you don’t have to wear one, whatever the situation. 

It’s a good idea to try wearing a face covering at home – if it feels fine, then you can wear it and it won’t harm you. 

We know people are worried about being fined or publicly confronted for not wearing a face covering. We will continue to work with the 4 nations and with transport providers to clarify how people with lung conditions who struggle to wear a face covering can identify themselves.  

We have a downloadable graphic (JPG 150KB) you can show on your device to explain why you aren’t wearing a face covering.

Download our face covering exemption graphic (JPG 150KB)

Download our face covering exemption graphic in welsh (JPG 240KB) 

We also know that many bus and train companies are offering their own exemption card which you can print and take with you, or have said customers using their service will not need to prove they’re exempt. For example:

We recommend getting in touch with your transport provider in advance of your journey to discuss your options.

If you feel comfortable wearing a mask, please use a cloth covering and not a mask designed for clinical use. The NHS needs these supplies.  Read how to make your own face covering that covers your mouth and nose. You should also wash your hands before putting them on and taking them off.

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Last updated: Friday 10 July 2020

We hope you have found this content useful

We hope you have found this content useful. Our team of health experts is working tirelessly on a daily basis to provide the latest and most up to date health advice concerning coronavirus (COVID-19).

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We use your comments to improve our information. We cannot reply to comments left on this form. If you have health concerns or need clinical advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

Last medically reviewed: July 2020. Due for review: July 2020

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.