The Scottish Government is “actively exploring” tightening the rules around wearing face masks.

Currently, people in Scotland are only required to wear a form of covering that covers the mouth and nose. These must be worn in places like shops, public transport and certain other indoor public places – with some exemptions made for things like health issues.

However, speaking on the BBC yesterday, John Swinney confirmed that plans are being looked at to toughen up the rules around face coverings. 

The Deputy First Minister was asked about the news that people in Germany are being required to wear medical-grade face surgical masks when in shops, following concerns about the spread of new variants across Europe. 

Irvine Times: John Swinney spoke about potential toughening of mask rulesJohn Swinney spoke about potential toughening of mask rules

Mr Swinney said: “The question that you raised about the higher-grade face covering is one that is being actively explored within government today".

He said it would be "foolish" to rule out the possibility of further restrictions given the “enormous pressure” currently facing the NHS. 

He added: "The lockdown measures and the willing compliance of members of the public is helping to improve the situation. 

“If you look back about a fortnight the cases per 100,000 on average in Scotland were just over 300, and the last figures available it's about 192. 

“So progress is clearly being made in reducing the spread of the virus and we are very grateful to members of the public for the cooperation that they have put in place.

"But - and there's always a but in these circumstances - our hospitals are under enormous pressure with significant numbers of patients in - much more patients in hospital with Covid than there were back in April of last year, so we face a much more significant pressure on our NHS. 

“So although one of the indicators about transmission is getting better, one of the other indicators about pressure on our NHS is not improving and is in fact becoming more challenging.

"We are taking a set of measures that we are confident that they are having the effect, but I think it would be foolish of me to say that there may not be a necessity at some stage in the future for us to take further measures.”

Mr Swinney said that in order to avoid that, we must all “follow the rules” and the Scottish Government will “take the right measures at the right time to protect the public” based on the scientific advice.

What is the current guidance?

Currently, the Scottish Government guidance on face coverings is this:

"A face covering can be a covering of any type, except a face shield, that covers the mouth and nose.

"It is recommended that it be made of cloth or other textiles and should be two, and preferably three, layers thick and fit snugly while allowing you to breathe easily. 

"Religious face coverings that cover the mouth and the nose count as face coverings for these purposes.

"Transparent face coverings which assist communication for those who rely on lip-reading and facial expressions can also be worn.

"Face shields may be used, but only if they are worn in addition to a face covering underneath, as the evidence shows that they do not provide adequate protection on their own."

Where is it law to wear one?

  • any premises which open to members of the public and are used for the retail sale or hire of goods or services, such as shops, takeaway restaurants, pharmacies, estate agents, beauty parlours and shopping malls. 
  • health and social care settings
  • hospitality premises such as bars, pubs and cafes and restaurants,  and canteens (including workplace canteens).
  • banks, building societies, credit unions and post offices
  • visitor attractions, indoor tourist, heritage or cultural sites such as  museums and galleries, aquariums, indoor zoos or visitor farms,
  • entertainment venues such as cinemas, indoor theatres, comedy clubs, concert halls, soft play centres, bingo halls, bowling alleys, amusement arcades, snooker and pool halls, and other leisure facilities,  indoor funfairs and indoor skating rinks
  • indoors in communal areas in workplaces, where people mingle or gather to, for example, socialise or transit such as passageways, stairs, lifts, staff rooms, training rooms, changing rooms and entrances.
  • community centres
  • courts and tribunal buildings 
  • crematoriums and funeral directors' premises
  • libraries and public reading rooms
  • places of worship
  • storage and distribution facilities, including collection and drop-off points
  • indoor fitness studios, gyms, swimming pools or other indoor leisure centres
  • sports stadiums
  • conference or exhibition centres


A 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 (including open air 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

You must wear a face covering before entering any of these settings and must keep it on until you leave unless an exemption applies to you.

Irvine Times:

Who is exempt from wearing one?

Some people are not required to wear a face covering.

These include:

  • babies, toddlers and children under 5 years of age, due to the possibility of overheating, suffocation and strangulation and they are safe without one
  • when a person may have a certain health condition or disability (including hidden disabilities, for example, autism, dementia or a learning disability), which prevents them wearing a face coverings safely. This covers children with breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face covering.
  • where it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety to the wearer or the person in the care of the wearer
  • anyone who cannot apply a covering and wear it in the proper manner safely and consistently
  • police constables or emergency response workers such as paramedics acting in the course of their duty. For these groups, relevant workplace guidance still recommends wearing a face covering in most circumstances
  • those performing, presenting, addressing a public gathering, making a speech or being a panel member in an indoor public space where it is mandatory to wear a face covering who are physically separated, by means of a partition (screen), from the audience or if they maintain a 2 metre distance from the audience.
  • owners, managers, members of staff, or volunteers, of indoor premises where it is mandatory to wear a face covering who are physically separated, by means of, for example, partition screens, from passengers or customers or if they maintain a 2 metre distance from customers or members of the public
  • employees undertaking tasks in the course of their employment, where the wearing of a face covering would cause material risk of harm, for example, on the factory floor due to production requirements. Employees should follow existing sector guidance on appropriate controls for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in these settings.  
  • a person leading an act of worship, service, ceremony or registration in a place of worship, or at a funeral, marriage ceremony or civil partnership, where there is a partition screen or a distance of 2 metres is maintained 
  • the couple getting married or entering a civil partnership for the duration of the ceremony or registration provided the couple are 2m apart or separated by a partition, from any other person
  • anyone who is eating, drinking or exercising
  • anyone who needs to take medication and cannot do so whilst wearing a face covering
  • a person who is communicating with someone else who relies on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate; such people should remove the face covering only temporarily whilst communicating and replace it immediately afterwards
  • anyone who is seeking medical assistance, or acting to avoid injury, illness or harm, and where wearing a face covering would make this more difficult; this also applies if someone needs emergency assistance and they don’t have a face covering with them or there is not time to put one on
  • a person who is providing care or assistance to a vulnerable person and where wearing a face covering would make this more difficult; this also applies if someone needs to provide emergency assistance and they don’t have a face covering with them or there is not time to put one on
  • when a relevant person, such as a police officer, judicial office holder or tribunal chairpersons asks you to remove your face covering
  • in a restaurant/café including canteen, bar or other hospitality setting, a person who is seated at a table to eat or drink.

What doesn’t count

  • not wanting to wear a face covering
  • mild discomfort when wearing one