Last reviewed 24 July 2020

As face coverings become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England, the charity Asthma UK has called for better awareness of exemptions around the measures in the case of ill health such as lung conditions, sharing an exemption card that explains some people do not have to wear a face covering.

In terms of the law, in England, people are required to wear face coverings:

  • on public transport

  • in airports, rail and tram stations, ports, bus and coach stations and terminals

  • in shops and supermarkets

  • at indoor shopping centres

  • in banks, building societies and post offices.

However, people with mental or physical illnesses or disabilities are exempt from the requirements — if wearing a face covering makes it difficult to breathe for example, such as in the case of respiratory conditions like asthma.

Sarah MacFadyen, Head of Policy at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said, “It’s important to wear a face covering where advised not only to protect yourself but others around you, who could be more vulnerable to Covid-19. However, we need a greater awareness that there are exemptions from the rules on face coverings, and this includes people with severe respiratory conditions. Most people will be able to wear a face covering with no problem, but some people find that wearing a mask makes them feel like they can’t breathe.

“As face coverings become mandatory in shops in England, we urge the public to think twice before they judge someone for not wearing a face mask. Not all health conditions are visible and people with lung conditions have already told us that they’ve been publicly confronted by strangers about not wearing one, leaving them feeling anxious and humiliated.”

A downloadable exemption card has been produced for people to show on their phones or elsewhere to explain why they’re not wearing a mask.

However, people are not obliged by law to show the card if they are challenged on face masks.

The exemption card and other information is available via the Government website.