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.

From Friday, 27 November 2020, the Government has recommended that you also wear a face covering in crowded workplaces, places of worship and in busy or crowded outdoor spaces where a lot of people gather together.

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. 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 ‘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

Face coverings are 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.

In some businesses and places, you may need to remove your face covering or it may not be possible for you to wear one at all times. The law on face coverings includes exemptions for:

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

When you are in these places, you should wear a face covering when requested and follow advice to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

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.

Fine and penalties

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

Public health laws on face coverings are in place until 9 June 2021.


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.

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. It is material (usually cotton or linen) that you wear across your nose and mouth using elastic or string. It should fit snugly against your face, with no visible gaps. 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

Wear a medical face mask, if you have one, if:

  • You are in self-isolation and cannot keep a 2-metre distance from people you live with
  • You are caring for someone who is in self- isolation


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

Read more about who may be advised to wear a visor, and how to wear a visor correctly, on the HSE website.

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: 18 December 2020