Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 24 Sep 2021 - see all updates

Explains where you need to wear a face covering and exemptions from wearing one.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings


By law, you must wear a face covering in certain indoor public places, including public transport, in Scotland. See the complete list of settings where we all have to wear face coverings.

You are also advised to wear a face covering outdoors in crowded places.

Wearing a face covering helps to reduce the spread of COVID-19, as you can still catch and pass on the virus even if you have been vaccinated.

The mandatory requirement to continue wearing face coverings is subject to regular review, and will continue to take account of social and economic factors, as well as the current impacts on public health and risks of transmission in Scotland.

Decisions on measures to control the virus are guided by the latest clinical and scientific evidence, to ensure requirements are necessary and proportionate.

If you are exempt, you may choose not to wear a face covering. That would be the case if, for example:

  • you’re under 12 years old
  • you’ve got an illness or disability which means you cannot wear one
  • wearing one would cause you severe distress

Learn more about face coverings exemptions.

This guidance provides information to the general public and includes a section on workplaces about the use of face coverings.

The latest information on Coronavirus Scotland is available.


There is scientific evidence that face coverings are effective in reducing the transmission of coronavirus and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends their use in the community in areas of known transmission and in certain workplaces. These settings of known transmission tend to have these following characteristics:

  • close proximity with people from other households
  • settings where individuals stay for prolonged periods of time
  •  high frequency of contacts
  •  confined shared environments
  •  poor ventilation

COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, sings or even breathes, and droplets and aerosols from their mouth or nose are released into the air. The evidence to date continues to point towards transmission occurring mainly via close contact with symptomatic cases through aerosol transmission. A large proportion of cases are asymptomatic, while the virus can also spread before the onset of symptoms, meaning many people will be unaware that they have been infected.

This can occur through:

  • respiratory droplets
  • by direct contact with infected persons (particularly being in an indoor space, without face coverings, with a group of people)
  • by contact via contaminated objects and surfaces

Face coverings remain an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19, even as the vaccine is rolled out. We are yet to understand how effective the vaccines are at preventing transmission of current and new variants of concern, which are spreading faster than previous ones, such as is the case of the Delta variant.

When worn correctly, face coverings can provide protection to those around the wearer from droplet and aerosol transmission and can also provide some protection to the wearer. They also serve a purpose in source control by reducing contamination to the environment surrounding the wearer (e.g. surfaces).

This is especially important in helping to prevent asymptomatic (they have the virus and do not have any symptoms) transmission or pre-symptomatic (they have the virus but have not yet developed symptoms) transmission of COVID-19.

Face coverings are not the same as personal protective equipment (PPE), more information on what face coverings are is available.

To continue supressing the virus, you should:

Find out more in the following sections: 

First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 24 Sep 2021 -