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Face mask rules

Wearing a face mask is mandatory in some settings. Learn about when you need to wear a face mask, when you can remove it and who is exempt.

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In local government areas where the stay at home rules apply, when you leave home you must carry a face mask with you at all times. 

Who needs to wear a mask

You must wear a fitted face mask when you are in an indoor area of common property in a residential building that is:

  • strata titled
  • community titled or
  • company titled.

You do not need to wear a mask inside your own apartment.

Common areas where you must wear a mask include:

  • a shared foyer or lobby of an apartment block
  • lifts, stairwells and corridors
  • shared laundry facilities and garbage areas.

Masks must be worn by anyone entering including:

  • residents and visitors
  • building managers, concierge staff and cleaners
  • people providing goods and services including tradespeople and contractors
  • people delivering food, mail and parcels.

NSW Health strongly recommends wearing face masks if you are unable to physically distance from people you do not live with.

You can take off your face mask when you need to communicate with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing and seeing the mouth is essential.

It is important to keep 1.5 metres apart, where practicable. 

Residents in an aged care facility are not required to wear masks, but all visitors and staff must wear a mask.

Even if you wear traditional or religious garments, you still need to wear a fitted face mask in the designated settings. 

There are face masks available that can be worn with traditional and religious garments. If you are wearing a face covering, like a veil or scarf, it is recommended that you wear your face mask underneath. 

The face mask needs to fit securely around your face and be designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to provide the wearer with protection against infection. 

If a person refuses to wear a face mask at a premise, the occupier of the premises may refuse entry to that person. It is a matter for the occupier of each premises to exercise judgement on what is appropriate for their premises and for the well-being of their staff and customers.

If an occupier intends to refuse entry, they should be familiar with the exceptions and speak to the person to understand their circumstances.

The NSW Police may issue on-the-spot fines to individuals who

  • breach a public health order 
  • fail to comply with a direction to wear a mask.

Check the penalties for breaching public health orders.

Types of masks

  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting on or taking off your mask.
  • Ensure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face.
  • Refrain from touching the front of your mask while wearing or removing it.
  • Do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean, dry place.

For more information on how to wear a face mask and cloth masks, read our general advice on face masks.

Under the public health order, a "fitted face covering" means a mask or other covering that

  1. fits securely around the face, and
  2. is designed or made to be worn over the nose and mouth to provide the wearer with protection against infection.

When you wear a mask you must make sure that it is covering both your nose and your mouth.

Single-use and reusable cloth masks both help to prevent the spread of COVID-19, if used correctly. Scarfs and bandanas are not considered a “fitted face covering” under the public health order.

Learn more about using single-use and reusable cloth face masks.

Face shields are not a substitute for face masks however people who are unable to wear a mask may find it easier to wear a face shield. 

If this is the case for you, ensure the face shield covers the sides of your face and below the chin.

Clean and disinfect reusable face shields after each use. 

Wear disposable face shields only once. 


A person may remove their mask if they are:

  • eating or drinking
  • communicating with another person who is deaf or hard of hearing
  • at work and the nature of the work makes the wearing of a fitted face covering a risk to the person's, or another persons' health and safety, or where clear enunciation or visibility of your mouth is essential
  • asked to remove their mask for identity purposes
  • in an emergency situation
  • doing exercise
    • in one of the 12 LGAs of concern a mask can be removed if you are doing strenuous exercise
    • in other areas of the state, a mask can be removed if doing other types of physical exercise
  • at a correctional centre, place of custody, or hospital
  • a resident at an aged care were facility
  • a guest in a hotel/motel room and in your room
  • in the process of getting married
  • working alone in an office (until another person enters)
  • in a vehicle alone or with another person from your household.
Eating and drinking

You can take your face mask off when you are eating or drinking. 

To avoid the risk of contamination, NSW Health recommends you put on a new, clean mask when you have finished eating or drinking. If this is not possible, remember to wash or sanitise your hands. 

You should always use hand sanitiser or wash your hands before and after changing your face mask.

Remember, stay 1.5 metres apart from people you don’t live with.

The public health order includes a number of lawful reasons for not wearing a mask.

You are not required to wear a mask if you have a physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability, that makes wearing a mask unsuitable. For example, if you have a skin condition, an intellectual disability, autism or trauma, you are not required to wear a mask.

Please be respectful to people who are not wearing a mask as the reasons for not wearing a mask are not always visible or obvious. 

See the requirements for providing proof of exemption for not wearing a mask.

If you cannot wear a face mask because of a disability, physical or mental health illness or condition, you must carry either

  • a medical certificate or letter signed by a registered health practitioner (such as a doctor) or a registered NDIS provider or
  • a statutory declaration.

Proof of exemption and identity

If you are in a situation where masks are mandatory, a police officer can ask you to confirm the lawful reason you are not wearing a face mask.

If asked by a police officer, you must show them either

  • a medical certificate or letter from the health practitioner or NDIS provider or
  • a statutory declaration.

You must also carry and produce evidence of your name and address to a police officer if requested.

A statutory declaration will require you to identify your disability, physical or mental health illness or condition and declare

  • you have the physical or mental health illness or condition or disability and
  • the physical or mental health illness or condition, or disability makes wearing a fitted face covering unsuitable

Penalty notices

Officers will issue a penalty notice if you clearly refuse to wear a mask without a lawful reason.

Temporary removal of your mask

If you are eating or drinking, or there is an emergency, you may remove your mask.

You should replace your mask as soon as possible after eating or drinking or when an emergency situation has ended.

Masks should not be worn by toddlers under 2 years of age and babies, as they are a choking and suffocation risk.

Children 12 years and under are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.

Find out about the COVID-19 safety measures at NSW schools. 

It may not be suitable for some people with disability to wear a face mask. 

See the requirements for providing proof of exemption for not wearing a mask.


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