Face coverings during COVID-19

Introduction

Wearing a face covering is recommended to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In some situations, wearing a face covering is the law, and you could be fined or imprisoned if you refuse to wear one without a reasonable excuse.

It is recommended to wear a face covering in situations where social distancing is difficult, for example, when visiting people who are more at risk of COVID-19.

It is also recommended that you wear a face covering in:

  • Crowded workplaces
  • Places of worship
  • Busy or crowded outdoor spaces where a lot of people gather together

From 22 October, you will not have to wear a face covering, except on public transport, in indoor retail, and in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

This document explains when to wear a face covering, the law on face coverings and gives advice on how to use one safely.

When must I wear a face covering?

Public transport

By law, you must wear a face covering when using public transport. This includes in taxis, as well as in bus and rail stations.

If you have a reasonable excuse to not wear a face covering, you should tell the driver or inspector. Read ‘Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?’ below for information on reasonable excuses.

Drivers of a public transport vehicle do not have to wear a face covering if they are:

  • Alone in a compartment
  • Separated from passengers by a screen
  • In the vehicle but there are no passengers getting on or off

Shops and other indoor settings

By law, you must wear a face covering in:

  • Shops, including pharmacies
  • Shopping centres
  • Libraries
  • Cinemas and cinema complexes
  • 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
  • Banks, credit unions and post offices
  • Airports and ports

This is set out in SI 296 of 2020 (pdf), as amended.

It is also mandatory for retail staff to wear a face covering unless there is a partition or they take all reasonable steps to keep a 2-metre distance from others.

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

The law on face coverings includes exemptions for:

  • Medical, dental or other healthcare services
  • Sit-in restaurants or cafés

In restaurants, you should wear a face covering on your way to and from your table. You may be refused entry if you refuse to wear one. Staff in sit-in restaurants or cafes must wear a face covering unless they are separated by a screen.

Changes in restrictions from 22 October

From 22 October, you will not have to wear a face covering, except:

  • On public transport
  • In indoor retail
  • In hospitals and other healthcare settings

You may be asked to wear a face covering in other places not listed above, depending on the safety measures in place.

Fine and penalties

If you do not wear a face covering (or ignore a request to wear one) without a reasonable excuse, you can be fined €80. You must pay this fine within 28 days.

If you do not pay your fine within 28 days, you will be summonsed to court where you may get:

  • A fine of up to €1,000
  • Up to one months' imprisonment
  • Both a fine and imprisonment

You could be fined more or sent to prison for longer, if it is your second or subsequent offence.

Wearing a visor does not satisfy the legal requirement to wear a face covering as it does not cover your nose and mouth.

Public health laws on face coverings are in place until at least 9 November 2021.

Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?

Face coverings are not recommended for some people, including children under 13. However, children under 13 may be asked to wear one by a healthcare worker at a doctor’s clinic, hospital or COVID-19 testing centre. Children under 13 should also wear a face covering if they are attending secondary school.

You do not have to wear a face covering on public transport, in public service vehicles or certain premises if you have a reasonable excuse. You should tell a member of staff if you have a reasonable excuse to not wear a face covering.

Reasonable excuses include where you:

  • Cannot wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or a disability, or because it would cause you severe distress
  • Need to communicate with someone who has difficulties communicating
  • Remove a face covering to care for or help a vulnerable person or to give emergency assistance to someone
  • Remove a face covering to take medication
  • Remove a face covering to avoid harm or injury

Members of the Garda Síochána do not have to wear a face covering when performing their duties.

Secondary school

Staff and students in secondary school must wear a face covering when it is not possible to keep a physical distance of 2 metres from other people.

Face coverings should not be worn by people who:

  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Are unconscious or incapacitated
  • Are unable to remove the face-covering without assistance
  • Have special needs and may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the face covering, for example people with an intellectual or developmental disability

The Department of Education has published guidance (pdf) on the use of face coverings in schools.

What type of face covering should I use?

Cloth face coverings are the type of face coverings most people should wear in public settings. They are made from material such as cotton or linen. You can buy a face covering or make a face covering. Wearing a cloth face covering helps stop the spread of COVID-19.

Cloth face coverings are not personal protective equipment (PPE).

When you wear a face covering, you should continue to:

  • Wash your hands properly and often
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Keep at least 2 metres from other people

Medical face mask

Medical face masks (also known as surgical masks) are disposable masks. They are usually green or blue in colour.

You should wear a medical face mask if you are in one of the groups of people at higher risk of getting seriously ill if you get COVID-19.

You should also wear a medical face mask at home when:

  • You are self-isolating
  • You have tested positive for COVID-19
  • You are living with someone who has COVID-19

Visors

Visors should only be worn if you have an illness or impairment that makes wearing a face covering difficult.

Read more about visors on the HSE website.

How do I use a face covering?

You should always wash your hands before putting on your face covering. Avoid touching it while you are wearing it and if you accidently touch the front, wash your hands straight away.

Make sure that the material fully covers your nose and mouth. You should check that it is tied securely and fits snugly against the side of your face.

Keep your spare face coverings in a clean, waterproof bag (such as a ziplock bag). You should carry a similar bag for used face coverings. Label these bags clearly so that you do not mix them up.

If you are a smoker, do not lift up your face covering to smoke. Instead, remove it completely and place it in your ‘used’ ziplock bag.

When you are removing your face covering, use the strings at the back. Do not touch the front. If your face covering is disposable, throw it in a bin immediately after use. If it is re-usable, you should wash it in hot water (60 degrees or hotter) with detergent.

Read more about the guidelines for wearing a face covering correctly and safety requirements for face coverings.

Download posters on the correct use of face coverings in English or Irish.

Page edited: 4 October 2021