Updated | Removing face mask to eat and smoke is now permissable but not while walking

After the weekend’s enforcement blitz to ensure people are adhering to COVID-19 restrictions, the legal notice mandating the wearing of face masks has been amended • We review the new legal notice

Face masks have to cover the nose, mouth and chin and cannot be removed to eat and smoke, according to the legal notice published last October
Face masks have to cover the nose, mouth and chin and cannot be removed to eat and smoke, according to the legal notice published last October

A weekend enforcement blitz by police officers and other law enforcement agencies has thrown up many questions about one of the COVID-19 mitigation measures – face masks.

We have heard reports of people being fined for being outside without a mask while eating a takeaway.

It transpires that the face mask legal notice introduced last October was already that tough – it was simply not being enforced. However, this week, the legal notice was amended to allow the temporary removal of a face mask while eating or smoking outdoors, as long as the individual is not walking.

The mandatory use of face masks does not apply to private homes or private vehicles.

We reviewed the legislation now in force and came up with this Q&A to clear the air.


What does the legal notice mandating the wearing of face masks say?

The law states that any person shall, “outside his residence” wear a medical or cloth mask or visor in a proper manner covering “the nose, mouth and chin”. This applies irrespective of whether the person is going to an indoor place or outdoors.

Where can I be without a mask?

Private homes and private cars are the only places exempt from the mandatory wearing of face masks.

Who is exempt from the rules on face masks?

The legal notice exempts children up to three years of age from wearing a face mask. Persons with “severe cognitive, physical, mental or respiratory impairments who have difficulties tolerating a mask as certified by a licensed medical practitioner” are also exempt. However, these individuals are required “at all times” to carry the relevant medical certificate exempting them from wearing a mask.

Does the law have exceptions that allow the temporary removal of face masks?

Yes, but these are listed clearly. The temporary exemptions are:

1. Children attending kindergarten, while in the classroom

2. During high intensity physical activity

3. When speaking or providing assistance to any individual who relies on lip reading to communicate

4. During official public speaking provided that a physical distance of at least 2m between individuals is maintained. Delivery of lessons or lectures in schools, universities and other education establishments is not considered official public speaking

5. If requested by law enforcement officials for identification purposes, or at banks, the airport or seaport for identification purposes

6. To receive any medical or cosmetic treatment or service involving the face or mouth

7. To take medication

8. When seated at establishments where food and drink is served

9. When consuming food or drink

10. When smoking a lit tobacco product

Does this mean that the mask must be worn at the hairdresser?

Yes. Although, if the barber is to trim or cut a person’s facial hair that would be considered a service involving the face and for that duration the face mask can be taken off.

Does this mean that eating outside while on a picnic is not allowed?

The new changes allow you to eat outside. However, the legal notice makes it clear that consuming food or smoking a cigarette outside cannot be done while walking. Prior to the new changes, the only exemption was when a person is seated at an establishment that serves food and drink.

So, where can I eat my food?

You can eat your food outside, just not while walking. So do not take a bite from your pastizz while you are walking to the bench in the public garden or while going to your car.

Can I remove the facemask to smoke a cigarette?

This is now possible due to the changes in the law. However, you cannot smoke while walking. This means that people who pull down their facemask while walking their dogs and with a cigarette in hand will still be breaking the law. You have to be seated or still.

What is the fine if someone breaches these regulations?

On conviction, the person has to pay €100 for each and every instance these regulations are breached. However, if the person admits the offence and pays the penalty before proceedings before the Commissioner for Justice start, the penalty will be reduced to €50.

This article has been updated to reflect the latest changes to the law that allow temporary removal of facemasks while eating and smoking.