Face coverings are now compulsory in England in shops, on public transport and when buying food or drink to take away.
In Scotland, face coverings were already mandatory in shops and on public transport.
In Wales, people will have to wear them on public transport by law from Monday 27 July, but they still won’t be compulsory in shops.
In Northern Ireland, face coverings are currently only compulsory on public transport, in hospitals and care homes.
As the rules change in England, Sky News explains all you need to know about face masks.
What is a face covering and how is it different to a mask?
The term face covering is being used to describe anything that sufficiently covers a person’s mouth and nose to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
According to Public Health England (PHE), this could be a homemade fabric covering or mask, scarf, bandana or surgical mask – often referred to as personal protective equipment (PPE).
Where do I have to wear a covering?
People in all four regions of the UK are being encouraged to cover their mouth and nose with a mask or homemade face covering in environments where keeping a 2m distance from others may prove difficult.
This includes enclosed spaces such as shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, trains, buses, taxis, airports or stations.
Where don’t I have to wear a covering?
Face masks are not compulsory in pubs, restaurants, cafes, hairdressers, beauty salons, gyms, cinemas, theatres or concert halls.
But those businesses are expected to take measures to protect their staff and customers from coronavirus and make their premises “COVID-secure”.
This means while you may not have to wear a mask by law, people working in those environments will probably be wearing one and may ask you to do the same.
Where should I already be wearing a covering?
It is illegal to board public transport in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland without a face covering. This includes buses, trains, trams and the London Underground.
The government also says people “should” wear a face covering when using taxis or private hire vehicles. Drivers may be entitled to refuse to accept passengers if they do not wear a face covering, it adds.
Masks were already mandatory inside shops in Scotland, but not in Wales or Northern Ireland.
Face coverings are heavily encouraged across all clinical settings, which include hospitals and care homes, although this is down to the NHS trust or company that runs the home.
What are the rules in the regions?
From Friday 24 July, people in England are required to wear a face mask on public transport, in shops, supermarkets, indoor shopping centres and when buying takeaway food from a restaurant, shop or cafe.
NHS guidance states that face coverings should be worn in hospitals.
Laws in England do not require people to wear a face covering in eat-in restaurants, cafes, pubs, hotels, cinemas, concert halls, theatres, visitor attractions such as museums or heritage sites, gyms, leisure centres, dentists or opticians.
If a shop or supermarket has a cafe or seating area for you to eat and drink, then you can remove your face covering in this area only.
You must put a face covering back on once you leave your seating area, according to PHE.
There are certain scenarios when you are allowed to remove a face covering when asked to do so.
These include in a bank, building society, post office, pharmacist or shop for identification purposes, for example when getting a new passport processed or buying alcohol.
If you are speaking to someone who relies on lip reading, facial expression or clear sound, you would also be permitted to remove your mask to communicate with them.
Face coverings have been mandatory on public transport in England since 15 June.
From Monday 27 July, “three-layer face coverings” will be compulsory on all public transport in Wales.
This will bring the country in line with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
First Minister Mark Drakeford said the changes were being made because having different rules to the rest of the UK is “not sustainable”.
Face coverings are not currently compulsory in shops in Wales, but are encouraged.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was ahead of the other three regions in endorsing face masks.
They have been required on public transport by law since 22 June and in shops since 10 July.
In Northern Ireland, face masks have to be worn on public transport, in hospitals and care homes.
Stormont has not yet made them compulsory in shops, but ministers are meeting this month to discuss potential changes.
Is there anyone who doesn’t have to wear a mask?
There are certain groups of people who are exempt from wearing a mask.
Children under the age of 11 in England and under the age of five in Scotland do not have to wear them.
People with the following health conditions are also exempt:
- breathing difficulties or respiratory disorders
- conditions affecting dexterity, which means you are unable to put on a mask
- mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic disorder
- learning difficulties such as autism
- cognitive impairments such as dementia which mean patients may not understand or remember
- the need to wear a mask
- visual impairments
- conditions that mean putting a face mask on would be too painful
You are also exempt from covering your face in situations whereby:
- you are with someone who relies on lip reading
- you need to escape injury or harm to yourself or others
- you need to take medication
- you are eating or drinking (not applicable to public transport)
- if an emergency service worker asks you to remove one
What happens if I don’t wear one?
You can be fined £100 for failing to wear a mask in an environment where it has been made compulsory.
Police forces across the UK have said they will “engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce as a last resort”.
It will be down to British Transport Police to enforce fines on public transport and other forces in other environments.
What if I can’t be understood?
Covering your mouth and nose can make it difficult to communicate because it makes your voice muffled and people are unable to read your facial expressions properly.
Speech and language therapist Dr Abi Roper advises people to face the person you’re talking to, speak clearly and naturally – but don’t shout – be patient, use body language, pointing and gestures.
She also recommends drawing, writing or using voice transcribing apps on mobile phones or computers.
What does the science say?
The official UK government guidance states that evidence around wearing a face covering suggests it “does not protect you” from coronavirus.
But it adds: “If you are infected but have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.”
The evidence of face coverings preventing the spread of infection from one person to another is “marginal but positive”, according to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) advising the government.
But a study by Cambridge University says even basic homemade masks can reduce transmission of the virus.
The Lancet, which analysed data from 172 studies in 16 countries, found that by wearing a face mask there is just a 3% chance of catching COVID-19.
What have the politicians been saying?
Ministers have been accused of giving mixed-messages on face coverings.
Previously Prime Minister Boris Johnson said they offer a “great deal of value” and give people more confidence to go shopping or return to work, but they should not be compulsory.
Now they are being made compulsory on public transport and in shops in England and Scotland.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said they are “absolutely a good idea”, but they shouldn’t be mandatory.
There was further confusion when Home Secretary Priti Patel was pictured wearing a mask when greeting French interior minister Gerald Darmanin in Calais, but not when they were inside together.
Defending her, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said “people are still learning how to use face coverings”.
There has also been criticism over the different rules for different regions of the UK.