Coronavirus: information and updates

Face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE)

Coronavirus spreads between people in tiny droplets when someone with the virus talks, sneezes or coughs. It can stay in the air and on surfaces for a short time.

The best way to protect yourself and stop it from spreading is to:

  • wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • use a face covering
  • avoid touching your face
  • follow social distancing guidelines
  • avoid crowded places

Cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Bin the tissue and wash your hands as soon as you can, for example with hand sanitiser.

You could also wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like a face mask. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that you should not use PPE instead of other safety measures.

Myths about coronavirus (World Health Organisation, WHO)

How face masks stop coronavirus spreading

You can wear a face mask or covering like a scarf or bandana over your nose, mouth and chin. This does not protect you, but people around you.

For example:

It takes an average of 5 to 6 days for symptoms to show after you’re infected. During this time, you may not know you have coronavirus.

Wearing a face mask or covering when you’re with people or in public can stop it spreading when you talk, sneeze or cough.

If you have a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss of taste or smell, stay at home and follow the latest government guidance.

Coronavirus guidance (GOV.UK)

Some people do not have to wear face masks

Some people do not have to wear a face mask or covering, including:

  • children under 11
  • people with breathing difficulties
  • people with a condition or impairment that makes it hard to communicate or keep a mask in place
  • people travelling with someone who relies on lip reading

Exemption cards and badges (GOV.UK)

'Please give me space' social distancing cards and badges (GOV.UK)

Buy an exemption card and lanyard (Disability Horizons)

Face masks in England

In England, you can be refused entry if you do not wear a face mask or covering:

  • on public transport including the taxi, bus, train, ferry or plane
  • at transport hubs like airports, rail and tram stations and bus stations
  • in a hospital or healthcare setting
  • in shops, supermarkets and shopping centres
  • at post offices, banks, building societies
  • places providing personal care and beauty treatments like hair salons and barbers

When to wear a face covering in England (GOV.UK)

Face masks in Wales

In Wales, you must wear a face mask or covering on public transport. The government recommends using a face mask or covering where social distancing is not possible.

Coronavirus guidance (

Fabric masks and coverings

Non-medical face masks are made from fabric or cloth. You can usually wash them in the machine and re-use them. They may have different features, such as:

  • 3 layers of fabric, recommended by WHO
  • a pocket to slip in a filter and dispose of it after every use
  • a nose wire which you can bend to keep the mask close to your face
  • adjustable straps or ties

Choosing and buying a fabric face mask (Which?)

Wear this type of mask if you do not have coronavirus symptoms and:

  • cannot social distance
  • are in a place where it's required

How to wear a fabric mask safely (WHO video on YouTube)

You can buy fabric face masks from many pharmacies, supermarkets and online stores.

Reusable face masks to buy online (Prima)

You could also use a face covering like a scarf, bandana or make your own fabric mask. Some people choose to wear cycling or dust masks which have a filter.

Simple no-sew guide to make your own fabric face mask (BBC)

Join discussions about masks with our online community

Medical face masks

Medical or surgical face masks are thinner and can only be used once. Wear this type of mask if you:

  • are a health worker
  • have coronavirus symptoms
  • look after someone with confirmed or suspected coronavirus

Or if you cannot social distance and are:

  • over 60
  • have other health conditions that make you medically vulnerable

You can buy disposable medical face masks at pharmacies including:

How to wear a medical face mask safely (WHO video on YouTube)

Other types of PPE

You may need to wear PPE at work. Your employer should carry out a risk assessment and provide the right PPE.

Latest guidance on using PPE at work (HSE)

Check if you should go back to work (GOV.UK)

The WHO says that washing your hands regularly offers more protection than wearing rubber gloves.

PPE for carers and PAs

If you have a carer or personal assistant (PA), their employer or agency should carry out a risk assessment or create a plan to work safely with you during coronavirus. This should include PPE.

If they have not told you, ask your carer or PA. You can also contact the agency they work for or social services.

If you employ a carer or PA directly or use direct payments, it may be your responsibility to create a plan with them. Ask your local authority for advice.

Find your local authority (GOV.UK)

Creating an emergency care plan (Carers UK)

Guidance for people who use direct payments (GOV.UK)

Providing and paying for PPE

If an agency employs your carer or they’re self-employed, they must provide PPE themselves. You only need to provide PPE if your contract says that you have to.

If you employ your own carer or use direct payments, you must supply them with the PPE they need. Contact your local authority or social services if you cannot find PPE or pay for it from your personal budget.

For personal care, your carer or PA should wear:

  • disposable gloves
  • a plastic apron
  • a surgical mask
  • possibly a face shield or eye protection 

PPE for carers delivering homecare (GOV.UK)

You could also:

  • open windows before they arrive
  • limit the places they go in your home
  • ask them to clean any surfaces they have touched or clean them yourself after they leave

How to keep safe if you use a carer or PA (Disability Horizons)

Last reviewed by Scope on: 19/07/2021

Was this page helpful?

We're sorry to hear that.

Tell us how we can improve it

Need more help?

Opens in a new windowOpens an external siteOpens an external site in a new window