Face coverings during COVID-19


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

You are also strongly recommended to wear a face covering in situations where social distancing is difficult, for example, when visiting people who are cocooning.

This document explains the law on face coverings and gives advice on how to use one safely.

When must I wear a face covering?

Public transport

You must wear a face covering while using public transport.

If you have a reasonable excuse to not wear a face covering, you should tell the driver or inspector. Read ‘Exceptions’ 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 retail settings

On 10 August 2020, public health laws made face coverings mandatory for customers 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

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.

Face coverings are not mandatory in:

  • Post offices, credit unions or banks
  • Medical or dental services
  • Sit-in restaurants or cafés

While it is not mandatory to wear a face covering in restaurants, you should wear one when arriving to and leaving your table. You may be refused entry if you refuse to wear one. This is for the safety of staff and customers around you.


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.

If you have a reasonable excuse to not wear a face covering, you should tell a member of staff.

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 provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person or to provide 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.

Fine and penalties

Anyone who does not wear a face covering (or anyone who ignores a request to wear one) without a reasonable excuse may get:

  • A fine of up to €2,500
  • Up to 6 months imprisonment
  • Both a fine and imprisonment

Face coverings in schools


Children in pre-school and primary school should not wear a face covering. Face coverings are not suitable for children under 13.

Students in secondary school may wear a face covering. This does not apply to students who:

  • Have difficulty breathing
  • Cannot remove the face-covering without assistance
  • Have special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing the face covering – for example, a student with developmental disabilities or mental health issues


Teachers and other staff in schools must wear a face-covering when they cannot maintain a physical distance of 2 metres from other staff, children or parents.

They may also choose to wear a face visor when communicating with students who have hearing difficulties or learning difficulties.

Staff must also wear a face covering or face visor when:

  • Performing intimate care or healthcare to children with medical needs
  • There is a suspected case of COVID-19 in the school
  • A member of staff is vulnerable to infection but are not in the list of very high risk groups
  • A member of staff is living with someone in a very high risk group
  • Administering first aid
  • At a parent-teacher meeting

Schools are advised to have extra disposable face coverings (and where appropriate, face visors) available for teachers and staff who may need a back-up face covering during the day.

Read detailed guidance about the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in schools at Gov.ie.

What type of face mask should I use?

A face covering (or barrier mask) is not a medical mask, which should be reserved for healthcare professionals. It is material (usually cotton or linen) that you wear across your nose and mouth using elastic or string. You can buy a face covering or make a face covering.

Face coverings or barrier masks are not personal protective equipment (PPE). They are not intended to protect the wearer against viral infection. Instead, they may prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.

If you are distributing (or buying) face coverings, you should make sure they are produced in line with National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) specifications. The specifications include:

  • Clear use of the words ‘barrier mask’
  • Name and address of the producer
  • Any warnings or safety information
  • Instructions for use

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

How do I use a face covering?

You should always wash your hands before putting on your face covering (barrier mask). 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, do so using 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.

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

Page edited: 20 October 2020