Face coverings: Should I wear one, what's the advice and how do they work?

As of July 24, face coverings are mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England.

You must have your nose and mouth covered when you go shopping or risk a £100 fine – reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.

The government had been reluctant to enforce the wearing of face coverings, and its guidance states they do not protect the wearer but may protect others if people are infected but have not yet developed symptoms.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has now changed the official guidance, and it will be up to the police to dish out penalties and not business owners or shop workers, although they are being asked to encourage customers to comply.

Credit: PA

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently changed its advice in early June, and said people should wear non-medical masks or coverings in enclosed spaces, where social distancing is harder.

The WHO also advises a three-layer face covering in the community – the outer layer should be water resistant, the inner should be water absorbent and the mid layer acts as a filter.

It emphasises that a mask alone cannot protect you from Covid-19, and that it must be combined with social distancing of at least a metre and regular hand washing.

  • What are the pros and cons of face masks? And how should you wear one?

Advice to the general public wearing face masks when out in public varies from country to country.

For many countries in Asia, wearing a mask has been the norm since the outbreak of the disease.

During the pandemic, various European cities and countries have also begun to enforce the use of face masks in community settings, in what appeared to be a worldwide shift in opinion.

Across the continent, face masks could be used as part of the coronavirus exit strategy.

In June, the World Health Organisation changed its advice and said people should wear non-medical face masks or coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is harder e.g in shops and on public transport.

With different guidance from different governing bodies, ITV News has compiled the different advice is from around the world and some of the key questions about face masks.

A man wearing a face mask feeding a parakeet in St James's Park, London. Credit: PA


The WHO advice now states that non-medical masks should be wore by the public in enclosed areas of widespread transmission, where physical distancing of at least 1 metre is not possible.

This includes in shops, on public transport and in other confined or crowded environments.

Medical masks should be worn by health workers, people who are taking care of a person with a suspected Covid-19 infection and anyone with coronavirus symptoms.

You should wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.

The mask should cover your mouth and nose and there should be no gaps between your face and the mask.

Public Health England (PHE):

PHE says face coverings must be worn at all times on public transport, or when visiting someone in hospital.

This advice will change from July 24, to include shops and supermarkets.

PHE advice on its website says: "If you can, you should also wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet."

The evidence states that wearing a face covering does not protect you, but if you are infected and have not yet developed symptoms, it may provide some protection for others you come into close contact with.

The NHS has been struggling to cope with the demand for PPE. Credit: PA

How do facemasks work?

Evidence suggests that some people with Covid-19 are contagious before showing signs of symptoms.

Some people with the disease may not show symptoms at all.

The disease is spread via exhaled droplets, so the mask can act as a way of stopping the disease being spread in the air, on surfaces and to nearby people.

The benefit of the mask is that it stops people who may have the disease from spreading it.

Are some face masks more effective than others?

In a nutshell, yes.

Those with ventilators can help filter air.

There are also single use masks, reusable masks, surgical and cloth masks.

Due to shortages in worldwide PPE, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control advised on April 6, 2020, that “the use of non-medical face masks made of various textiles could be considered, especially if – due to supply problems – medical face masks must be prioritised for use as personal protective equipment by healthcare workers”.

A woman wears face mask in Whitehall, London. Credit: PA

While cloth masks may not offer as much protection as surgical masks, the UK government says the NHS should be given priority as they are currently experiencing a storage of PPE, including facemasks.

Can a facemask stop me getting coronavirus?

A face mask is a preventive measure but not the be all and end all.

The WHO says masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning and staying at least 1 metre from others.

They also warn that a face mask may lead to a false sense of security that could cause you to lapse on other advice that stops the spread of the disease.

You should also replace a mask with a new one as soon as it become damp and advises against reusing single use masks, WHO says.

It is important your hands are clean and you should avoid touching your face once the mask is on.

To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know: