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.

You should also wear a face covering when you are around other people if any of the following apply:

  • You are a close contact
  • You have tested positive for COVID-19
  • You have symptoms

See ‘What type of face covering should I use?’ below.

It is 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

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
  • State offices, departments, agencies and local authorities (where there is public access)

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.

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 February 2022.

Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?

Face coverings are not recommended for some people, including children under 9. However, children under 9 may be asked to wear one by a healthcare worker at a doctor’s clinic, hospital or COVID-19 testing centre.

Children aged 9 and over are recommended to wear a face covering if they are attending school, (see ‘Children and face coverings’ below).

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
  • Need to give evidence in a tribunal or court
  • Need to give or get instructions in a tribunal or court
  • Are asked to remove your face covering by a person presiding at a court or tribunal hearing

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

Children and face coverings

Children aged 9 years and over should wear a face covering:

  • On public transport
  • In retail settings (such as shops and shopping centres)
  • In other indoor public settings

You can read about ‘who is exempt from wearing a face covering’ above.

Face coverings in primary school

Children in third class and above are recommended to wear a face covering in school and on school transport, unless they are exempt.

Your child does not have to wear a face covering if they:

  • Have trouble breathing or have a relevant medical condition
  • Are unable to remove it without help
  • Have special needs and they may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing them (for example, students with an intellectual or developmental disability, mental health difficulties, or sensory concerns)

If your child cannot wear a face covering, they may be able to wear a clear visor.

Children do not need to wear a face covering:

  • When they are outdoors
  • When eating or drinking at their desk
  • During exercise
  • When playing a musical instrument or singing

If you have concerns around your child wearing a face covering in school, you should first try to resolve the issue with the school. The Department of Education will support schools to resolve any issues that may arise.

These measures are in place on a temporary basis until at least mid-February 2022.

The Department of Education has published guidance on the use of face coverings in primary school (pdf) and Frequently Asked Questions on face coverings in primary schools (pdf).

Face coverings in 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.

Read more about the use of face coverings among children (pdf) from the HPSC and Department of Education. The guidance on children wearing face coverings will be reviewed in mid-February 2022.

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 or respirator mask

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

Respirator masks usually have 4 layers of light, paper-like material. They are usually white on the inside and the outside.

You should wear a medical or respirator face mask if you are:

  • Over 60 (in indoor or outdoor crowded places)
  • At higher risk from COVID-19 (in indoor or outdoor crowded places)
  • Visiting a healthcare setting or someone at higher risk of COVID-19
  • A close contact or self-isolating (wear this type of mask for 10 days when around other people)

Children aged 9 or over should wear a well-fitted face mask for 10 days if they are a close contact or have symptoms of COVID-19. This includes the 7 days they are restricting their movements or isolating and an extra 3 days.

It's best if they wear a well-fitted medical or respirator face mask. But a cloth face mask is also OK as long as it is well-fitted.

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: 14 January 2022