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The Scottish Government has published new guidance on face coverings, which you can find here. Guidance for the retail sector including procedures for staff and customer safety and an operations checklist has also been published today - you can read it here



  • Face coverings are one of the ways we keep safe, by reducing the risk of transmission indoors.
  • This does not mean surgical or other medical masks, but a covering of the mouth and nose that is made of cloth or other textiles, for example a scarf.
  • Face coverings are mandatory on all public transport. This includes taxis and private hire cabs, buses, trains, the Glasgow subway, planes and enclosed areas on ferries.
  • From 10 July, wearing face coverings is also mandatory in shops.
  • There will be some exemptions - for children under 5 and people with certain medical conditions. There are exemptions for those unable to wear coverings for health reasons.


Face coverings

The Scottish Government has published new guidance on the wearing of face coverings which outlines that while the evidence on their use is still very limited, there may be some benefit in wearing a facial covering in certain circumstances. 

Wearing a face covering where 2 metre distancing is not possible may provide some level of protection against transmission to other people in close proximity, especially for those who may be more at risk. In enclosed spaces, where physical distancing is more difficult and where there is a risk of close contact with multiple people who are not members of your household, you should wear a face covering.

Following the successful introduction of mandatory face coverings on public transport, the measure was extended to include retail settings on Friday, 10 July.

However, it is crucial to stress that staying home, physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene remain the most important and effective measures we can all adopt to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The wearing of facial coverings must not be considered an alternative to any of these most important precautions.

The Scottish Government has stressed that face coverings do not mean a surgical or other medical grade mask but a covering of the mouth and nose that is made of cloth or other textiles and through which you can breathe, for example a scarf or religious head covering that covers the mouth and nose. You may also use, if you prefer, a face visor but it must cover your nose and mouth completely.

When applying or removing the covering, it is important that you wash your hands first and avoid touching your face. After each use, you must wash the face covering at 60 degrees centigrade or dispose of safely. Face coverings should not be used for children under the age of two years and may not be appropriate for those with certain health conditions - for example asthma.

Examples include: shops or businesses; visits to a care home for the elderly; visits to adult hospitals as an outpatient; and GP surgeries or pharmacies where it is not always possible to maintain a 2 metre distance from other people. There is no evidence to suggest there might be a benefit outdoors from wearing a face covering unless in an unavoidable crowded situation.

Face coverings should not be used for children under the age of five years.

Individual discretion should be applied in considering the use of face coverings for other children including, for example, children with breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face covering.

Similarly, discretion is allowed for people who have a health condition, disabled people and those who need to communicate with a person who has difficulties communicating (in relation to speech, language or otherwise) where wearing a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety or because it cannot be worn in the proper manner safely.


Face coverings on public transport

People must by law wear a face covering on public transport  and public transport premises such as train stations and airports.

Accordingly, face covering must be worn by all passengers and staff or operators in the following settings:

  • train services including the Glasgow subway
  • bus services and the Edinburgh tram
  • taxi and private hire vehicles
  • bus stations, railway stations and airports
  • ferry services (unless the ferry is open to the elements and physical distancing can be achieved, or the vessel is large enough that physical distancing can be achieved)
  • airline services


Face coverings in retail settings

The First Minister has announced on 2 July that there is to be a requirement to wear mandatory face coverings in retail settings.  These regulations came in to effect on 10 July 2020. This follows a legislative requirement to wear face coverings in public transport from 22 June 2020. The timing of the restart of the Scottish economy is being driven by careful consideration of the public health evidence. Re-opening of the wider retail sector is being undertaken in a gradual manner to ensure that we make steady progress and do not need to stall progress or revert to a previous stage. Face coverings have a major role to play in this strategy. There is more advice on face coverings available on our website. Face coverings are in addition to other public health strategies and not a replacement.

The measure applies to customers and staff with exemptions noted in this section. A face covering is defined as any type of protective clothing which covers a person’s nose and mouth, which includes fabric face coverings, scarves and visors. It could be, but is not required to be, a PPE face mask. Customers are expected to provide their own face coverings but we strongly encourage retailers to have their own stocks of face coverings available as an initial encouragement to those customers without face coverings.

This is a criminal offence with the potential for a fixed penalty notice to be issued if the law is broken. Shop workers and retailers are not required to enforce this law, but we ask you to talk to customers who are not wearing a face-covering and explain the law.  If customers refuse to wear a face covering retailers and shop workers are asked not to stop customers from entering the store or from being served. The responsibility to wear a face covering rests with the individual.

The measure covers the full range of different indoor retail outlets with some exemptions.

Customers in retail environments are required to wear a face covering but there are exemptions, which include:

  • children under 5
  • people with health conditions who cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness or impairment or disability or without severe distress
  • if people need to take medication or to eat or drink where reasonable necessary
  • temporary removal to comply with a request by a relevant person or another person acting in the course of their duties
  • for customers with a hearing impairment and those who lip-read, and remove the face coverings, as necessary, to provide advice. information or assistance
  • for age-related sales customers are asked to ensure that they remove face coverings in accordance with requests from staff
  • in some food-handling settings where the wearing of a mask could compromise the hygiene practices that are already in place to ensure food safety

Staff only

  • predominantly based in non-customer facing areas, such as stock-rooms
  • in customer-facing areas if there is  2m physical distancing or a partition such as a perspex screen between customers and staff outwith store opening hours


Considerations for staff

The wearing of a face covering can be uncomfortable and may not be  appropriate for long durations of time, employers should therefore consider providing opportunities for staff to temporarily remove face coverings in non-public areas.

Where a face covering may need to be temporarily removed, such as the point of sale to ensure age-related sales checks or at staff rest areas, facilities should be provided to manage the risk this could pose e.g. safe distancing/screens and hand sanitiser. 

Staff who regularly pass between areas that have customers present and non-customer facing areas should wear face coverings.

Where staff have concerns on wearing face coverings this should be resolved in discussion between staff and managers. Although it is not mandated for staff to wear face coverings in all circumstances listed in the list above it is strongly encouraged that they do wear them. 


Retail settings which are included  / excluded from the mandatory measure

The guidance will apply in indoor shopping malls including those with covered walkways, retail service settings such as hairdressers, barbers  and in wholesale settings where members of the public are present. It is also strongly recommended that face coverings are worn in public toilets in retail environments.

The mandatory requirement to wear a face covering does not extend to trade customers in for example wholesale retail and high street financial services are also exempt from this measure although we still strongly recommend that face coverings form part of a risk assessment in these settings.


Food-based retail

This measure is only mandatory for food businesses which sell food exclusively by retail. It does not apply to restaurants or cafes including take-away and ‘food-to-go’ businesses which cook or prepare meals/dishes on on-site for customers to pick up and consume elsewhere or in a seating area within the premises. These businesses should have measures in place for ensuring physical distancing between staff and customers in accordance with our guidance on tourism and hospitality and Food Standards Scotland’s guidance. Although the wearing of face coverings is not mandatory for these businesses, their use may be advisable as an additional mitigation measure, particularly in circumstances where 2m distancing is difficult to maintain.

It is recognised that there may be certain tasks that staff in food shops need to carry out where face coverings may not be appropriate. For example, where staff are handling food items or preparing meals and it is assessed that the wearing of a mask could increase the risk of other types of infection (non-COVID) from getting into the food which could potentially make it unsafe.

COVID-19 is a respiratory infection and the wearing of face coverings is intended to prevent the spread of infection between people. There is no evidence that it can make people ill through food. It is therefore important that wearing a face covering doesn’t affect the hygiene controls that should already be in place to ensure food is protected from other bacteria and viruses that can cause food poisoning. If there is any concern that wearing a face covering could present a risk to the food, the shop worker would not be required to wear one.



Specific exemptions provide that certain categories of people are not required to wear a face covering. This includes children under five years of age, a police constable or workers such as paramedics acting in the course of their duty.  Staff such as drivers who are physically separated, by means of, for example, screens, from other staff and passengers are also exempt from wearing face coverings.

You may also have a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering if, for example:

  • you have a health condition where a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety or because you cannot apply a covering and wear it in the proper manner safely and consistently.
  • you have a reasonable need to eat or drink
  • you need to take medication
  • you need to communicate with someone else who relies on lip reading
  • a relevant person, such as a police officer, asks you to remove your face covering

There is no requirement to obtain evidence in the form of a letter from a doctor or government that you are exempt. If you have a condition which means you cannot wear a face covering you need only advise if asked that you cannot wear a face covering because you are exempt for one of the reasons listed above.

Public transport operators have discretion over how their staff can enforce the regulation and that if prompted by staff, passengers should explain why they are exempt from the regulation - but they are not required to produce a doctor's note. 

If you or the person you care for aren’t able to wear a face covering, that is allowed and government guidance states this. You may be asked by public transport or hospital staff about why you are not wearing one, and before you travel it might be a good idea to think about how you can communicate this. 

It might be a good idea to write or print out a note that you can show to someone which tells them why you aren’t wearing a face covering. Some transport operators have print out journey assistance cards on their websites that people can use to show operators that they are unable to wear a face covering. All companies will accept any exemption card or note. 

Some operators have introduced a badge or lanyard scheme which could help passengers to show they are exempt. The Hidden Disabilities programme which supports people living with non-visible disabilities to discreetly indicate that they may need additional support has produced a  ‘Face Covering Exempt’ card which is available to purchase online for 55p and could be used to show transport and hospital staff.

Ultimately, it is up to individuals to decide whether they wish to travel with a card or something similar to indicate their reason for not wearing a face covering. There is no requirement to carry one.


Useful Links for those with exemptions

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