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22 June 2021

The “lockdown” began in the UK on 23 March 2020. In July laws have been introduced in Wales about when you must wear a face covering. You must wear a face covering when using public transport in Wales from 27 July 2020. From 14 September 2020, you must also wear a face covering in certain indoor places in Wales.

On 9 June 2020, the Welsh Government issued Guidance Face coverings: guidance for public. This Guidance is updated frequently, and it is a useful resource. It is important to remember that the law, as set out in Regulations may be different to Welsh and UK Government Guidance. The legal rules about face coverings are set out in Regulations. The Regulations are government-made law, made under emergency powers (this means they are not debated and approved by parliament before becoming law).

This Explainer focuses on Regulations which deal with face coverings, where they apply, to who, and exemptions.

What are the Regulations? 

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 is the current law about face coverings in Wales. These Regulations mean it is a legal requirement to wear a face covering on public transport and in certain indoor public places in Wales. The law on these rules is found in Part 5 of these Regulations.

The rules about wearing face coverings on public transport were first introduced by an amendment to the old No. 2 Regulations and became law on 27 July 2020.

The rules about wearing face coverings in certain indoor public places were introduced by an amendment to the No. 2 Regulations and became law on 14 September 2020.

The current Regulations became law on 20 or 23 December 2020 (depending on the Part) and expire at the end of the day on 27 August 2021 and must be reviewed by Welsh Ministers every 21 days.

Why have they been introduced? 

These Regulations have been introduced to provide a legal framework for requiring people to wear face coverings in certain situations. They have been introduced to attempt to slow transmission of Covid-19.


What are the changes?

What is a face covering?

The Regulations define a face covering as “any type of covering which covers a person’s nose and mouth”. It does not have to be a face mask.

When must a face covering be worn?

These Regulations require people to wear face coverings on public transport. This includes taxis. This does not include school transport services, ferries where people remain outdoors and 2 metres apart, or cruise ships.

These Regulations also require people to wear face coverings in certain indoor public places. This includes:

  • shops,
  • places of worship,
  • public transport stations (such as bus stations, airports and railway stations) and
  • many other indoor public places and businesses such as:
    • pharmacies,
    • banks,
    • post offices,
    • public toilets,
    • cinemas and
    • libraries.

This applies unless a person:

  • has a reasonable excuse not to wear a face covering,
  • if they are under 11 years old, OR
  • if they are in a place where food or drink is sold “for the purpose of consumption on those premises” (for example, in a restaurant you don’t have to wear a face covering because that is a place where food and drink is sold to be eaten there at the restaurant. You would however be required to wear one in a shop, as there the food is not sold to be eaten at the shop.)

Reasonable excuses to not wear a face covering

The following are examples of reasonable excuses, which mean you do not have to wear a face covering in the following circumstances:

  • You cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of any physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability (as covered by the Equality Act 2020)
  • To communicate with someone who has difficulty communicating (in relation to speech, language or otherwise)
  • You have removed your face covering to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • You are travelling to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and do not have a face covering with you
  • It is reasonably necessary for you to eat or drink and you have removed your covering to do so
  • You have removed your face covering to take medication
  • You are seated at a place where food or drink are sold for consumption (such as a restaurant or café)
  • You have been asked to remove the coverings by an enforcement officer (explained below), or by the operator of the public transport (the company) or any of its employees or agents.

This list uses the word “include” which means there may be other similar reasonable excuses for not wearing a face covering.

An “enforcement officer” is a police constable, a police community support officer (PCSO) or a person designated by the Welsh Ministers, a local authority, a National Park authority in Wales, or Natural Resources Wales.

The operators of public transport services have a duty to provide information to passengers about the requirement to wear face coverings on their vehicles.

Enforcing the requirement to wear a face covering

Under Part 7 of the current Regulations, enforcement officers and public transport operators, their employees and agents can enforce the requirement to wear a face covering whilst using public transport and in certain indoor places.

If such a person believes you are breaking the requirement to wear a face covering on public transport and you do not have a reasonable excuse, they can:

  • Direct you not to board the vehicle
  • Remove you from the vehicle, using reasonable force if necessary.

If an enforcement officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that you are breaking the requirement (or about to break the requirement) to wear a face covering in certain indoor public places and you do not have a reasonable excuse, they can:

  • Direct you not to enter the premises
  • Remove you from the premises, using reasonable force if necessary.

If a child (aged 11 and over) fails to wear a face covering where required, the adults responsible for them can be directed by an enforcement officer or public transport operators and employees to make sure that the child wears one.

An enforcement officer should only exercise these powers to enforce the wearing of face coverings if they consider it necessary and proportionate.

Criminal Offences and Fixed Penalty Notices 

Part 8 of the Regulations sets out three criminal offences which may be committed: 

  • Not wearing a face covering as required by the Regulations (and not following the other restrictions in the Regulations.)
  • Obstructing, without reasonable excuse, a person carrying out functions in the Regulations
  • Not obeying a direction, without reasonable excuse.

If an enforcement officer (such as a police constable) reasonably believes that an offence has been committed by a person aged 18 and over, they can issue a fixed penalty notice (FPN), which is often thought of as a monetary fine.

If an FPN is issued a person does not have to accept it. If they do not then the criminal proceedings may be started and the matter will be decided in court. If a person accepts the FPN they have to pay a fine. The fines increase if you are given multiple FPNs:

  • First FPN is £60 (£30 if paid within 14 days of the date of the FPN)
  • Second is £120
  • Third FPN is £240
  • Fourth FPN is £480
  • Fifth is £960
  • Sixth FPN and any subsequent FPNs is £1920.

When working out whether someone has already been issued a FPN, and therefore what their FPN will amount to, an enforcement officer will include any FPNs issued to them under old Regulations such as the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020. Find a list of all the Coronavirus-related laws in Wales, past and present, here.

The Director of Public Prosecutions or any person designated by the Welsh Ministers can take the case to court instead of issuing an FPN.

What does this mean for people?

The Regulations mean you must wear a face covering on public transport and in certain indoor public places (unless the Regulations do not apply to you, or you have a reasonable excuse, as explained above). If you don’t, you could be stopped from entering or removed from the train or shop etc. or given a fine.


What human rights are involved?

There are a range of human rights under the Human Rights Act that may be engaged by the Regulations. These include: 

  • The right to life(Article 2), which includes a duty on government to take proactive steps to protect life.

  • The right to non-retrospective punishment(Article 7) which requires criminal offences to be known by the public (foreseeable and accessible). The creating of the Regulations, the lack of clear information about the Regulations and the confusion between the Regulations and Guidance is problematic. 
  • The rights to respect for private and family life(article 8), which include physical and mental health and wellbeing (as well as participating in the community, relationships with others, and maintaining contact with family). Restrictions on this right must be lawful, necessary (e.g. to protect the person/wider public) and proportionate. 
  • The right to not be discriminated against in the enjoyment of these human rights (article 14). For example, disabled people may require adjustments to ensure the Regulations are not applied in a discriminatory way.


What happens now?

The Regulations expire in 6 months’ time, and will be reviewed periodically by Welsh Ministers until then to make sure they are still proportionate to restricting the spread of Covid-19.

The UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) has raised concerns about the Regulations and their enforcement by the police. On the 19 March 2020 the JCHR started an Inquiry into “The Government’s response to COVID-19: human rights implications.” The JCHR Chair’s briefing states:

"This lockdown is the most significant and blanket interference with individual liberty in modern times.  Such extreme measures can only be considered lawful, justified, necessary and proportionate if (1) the threat from disease and death remains sufficiently significant to justify such extraordinary measures; (2) the measures only interfere with human rights and civil liberties to the extent necessary; (3) the measures are enforced in a clear, reasonable and balanced manner; (4) enforcement is authorised, and does not go beyond what is prohibited, by law." 

For information on the JCHR Inquiry visit the JCHR Inquiry website. The JCHR Inquiry finished accepting evidence from the public and experts in writing on 22 July. They have been holding oral sessions and asking questions of the government and conducting scrutiny sessions with Ministers. We at BIHR submitted evidence from three different groups who told us about their experience of health and social care during Covid-19. You can read our three full reports and easy read versions here.

PLEASE NOTE: BIHR Explainers are provided for information purposes. These resources do not constitute legal advice. The law may have changed from the date of writing.

You can download PDFs of our previous versions of this Face Coverings in Wales Explainer series here:

  1. Original Explainer (29 July 2020)

  2. 17 September 2020

  3. 22 June 2021