Face coverings in shops, including pharmacies and supermarkets in Northern Ireland

29th July 2020

The Northern Ireland Executive is launching a publicity campaign to encourage the wearing of face coverings for individuals visiting shops, including pharmacies, and supermarkets. The Executive will consider the impact of this campaign at its meeting on 20 August 2020. If there has not been a significant increase in the use of face coverings by this stage, the Executive will legislate to take the power to make the use of face coverings mandatory.


Wearing a face covering intends to protect others rather than the wearer, therefore, it does not replace regular hand washing and social distancing measures that have been important in controlling the spread of COVID-19 so far.


To help members inform customers/patients visiting a pharmacy of the new requirement, the NPA has produced a poster to display in the pharmacy, and an exemption cards handout. These are available to download and print here; Face covering poster 01 Face covering poster 02 Face covering exemption card


Key messages for pharmacy teams

We advise members to be pragmatic and to use their professional judgement as healthcare professionals. Pharmacies may wish to set clear expectations about what they want customers/patients to do, which includes wearing a face covering in most cases. However, even if the recommendation to wear a face covering is to become law, it will not be for pharmacists to police the new legislation. Rather it is to explain to customers of the importance of protecting staff and other people visiting the pharmacy.


Furthermore, ensure conversations are conducted in a confidential and polite manner, reminding customers/visitors of the new requirement, and be mindful, respectful of responses. If a customer/patient informs you that they are not able to wear a face covering, then this should not be a barrier for them accessing pharmacy services. Consideration should also be given to the context of the visit – whether the customer/patient is going to be on the premises for a few minutes, or longer.


Key points from GOV.UK:

  • It is not compulsory for pharmacy staff to wear face coverings, where other risk mitigation measures are in place (for example the use of visors, physical barrier screens and maintaining social distancing), although employers should consider recommending their use where appropriate to reduce the risk of infection
  • Single-use or reusable coverings, like scarves, bandanas or hand-made fabric coverings are all acceptable, as long as they fit well and cover the nose and mouth whilst allowing the wearer to breathe.
  • Individuals who fall into the following categories are considered exempt from wearing a face covering in pharmacies and shops:
    • Children under 13 years old
    • Individuals unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering due to a physical or mental disability
    • Individuals unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering as this will cause severe distress if they do so
    • Individuals assisting others who rely on lip reading to communicate
    • To eat or drink, but only if required
    • To take medication
  • Individuals can be permitted to remove their face covering when asked:
    • To do so by a member of staff for the purpose of age identification
    • To speak with someone who relies on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound – this can be requested verbally or in writing, to help with communication
    • When a police officer or other official requests an individual to remove their face covering


Further information:


Please contact the Pharmacy Services team for further advice and support:

  • Telephone: 01727891800 (Mon-Fri 9am to 6pm, Sat 9am to 1pm)
  • Email: pharmacyservices@npa.co.uk