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By law, you have to wear a face covering:

You should also wear a face covering:

  • when staying 2 metres apart from people is difficult
  • in healthcare settings - this includes hospitals, GP surgeries, care settings, nursing homes and dental practices
  • when visiting anyone who is more at risk from COVID-19 (coronavirus) - such as people aged 70 or over or people who are medically vulnerable
  • in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy outdoor spaces where a lot of people gather

Some people should not or do not have to wear face coverings. Read about who should not wear one.

Why wear a face covering

COVID-19 is mainly spread through close contact and droplets that come from your nose and mouth. For example, when you cough, sneeze or talk loudly. Wearing a face covering reduces the spread of these droplets. It also helps stop the spread of the virus from people who may not know they have it.

If you have COVID-19 or have symptoms, you must self-isolate. Do this even if you wear a face covering.

If you wear a face covering, you should still do the important things needed to stop the spread of the virus.

These include:

  • social distancing
  • covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when you cough and sneeze
  • washing your hands properly and often
  • not touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean

Read our advice on how to protect yourself and others.

When you must wear a face covering

By law, you have to wear a face covering on public transport, and in:

  • shops, including pharmacies
  • shopping centres
  • libraries
  • cinemas
  • theatres
  • concert halls
  • bingo halls
  • museums
  • nail salons
  • hair salons and barbers
  • tattoo and piercing parlours
  • travel agents and tour operators
  • laundries and dry cleaners
  • bookmakers

When to remove your face covering

You can remove your face covering if you need to:

  • talk to someone who has difficulty communicating
  • provide emergency help or care to a vulnerable person
  • take medication

You may be asked to remove your face covering to verify your age or identity.

You may also remove your face covering when you are:

  • at a post office, credit union or bank
  • eating and drinking at a restaurant or café – wear one anytime you’re not at your table
  • getting medical or dental treatment

You do not have to wear a face covering if you have an illness or impairment that would make wearing a face covering difficult.

Who should not wear a face covering

Face coverings are not recommended for anyone who:

  • has trouble breathing
  • is unconscious or incapacitated
  • is unable to remove it without help
  • has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing them
  • needs to communicate with someone who has learning difficulties, is hard of hearing or deaf

In these cases, if the person can wear a visor, it will give them some protection. But these are the only times when you should wear a visor. Cloth face coverings are a better way to protect yourself from COVID-19.

Read more about visors and face shields

Exemption letters

Some workplaces or schools may ask for a medical certificate. But in general, you do not need to ask for a letter from a GP about your reason for not wearing a face covering.

Children and face coverings

Face coverings are not recommended for children under the age of 13, but some children may choose to wear one. Young children may not follow the advice about wearing a face covering correctly.

But children under 13 should wear a face covering if their doctor or healthcare worker tells them to. For example, some children may be advised to do this when attending a hospital clinic.

Children who may be under 13 in their first year of secondary school should wear a face covering when attending school. This is because they are at the same developmental stage as their peers and can follow the advice on using face coverings properly.

Face covering posters

Download posters to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

Face coverings must be worn here (PDF, 715 KB, 1 page)

How to use face coverings (PDF, 1.7 MB, 1 page)

Is gá clúdaigh aghaidhe a chaitheamh anseo (Irish) (PDF, 705 KB, 1 page)

Conas clúdach aghaidhe a chaitheamh (Irish) (PDF, 1.7 MB, 1 page)

Related topics

How COVID-19 is spread

Shopping safely during the COVID-19 pandemic

Disposable gloves and COVID-19

Last updated: 1 December at 11am

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