The Government’s top scientific experts believe using face masks could help stop asymptomatic people, those who are infected but don’t show any symptoms, from passing on coronavirus. The guidance, discussed by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in a meeting on Tuesday, will ask Britons to cover their mouth and nose when heading to public places where social distancing cannot be observed. But people will be allowed to use homemade face masks or even just a scarf.
The new guidance, reported by the Sun, will apply to people who visit confined spaces where the two metre social distancing rules are impossible to adhere to, such as public transport and offices.
But masks will not be needed in all public places, with parks or quiet streets being exempt.
The Government is not expected to make mask wearing compulsory, but it hasn’t been entirely ruled out in it’s post-lockdown strategy.
People will be advised not to wear medical-grade masks, in order to ensure resources are not stopped from reaching the NHS.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons yesterday that the Government would not hand out free masks to the public, as some other countries have done.
He said: “I can’t promise that we will give everybody free masks. I mean, that would be an extraordinary undertaking.
“And we do have to make sure that we have supplies available especially for health and care staff, where the scientific advice throughout has been that the wearing of masks is necessary in those circumstances, and we’ve got to make sure the provision is there for them.”
If the UK were to advise the public to cover their face, it would join the US – which is advising the use of “simple cloth face coverings” – as well as a number of European states such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia which have made them compulsory to wear on public transport and in shops.
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8.06am update: Widespread face mask use backed by GPs
The chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners has said it would make sense to advise the public to wear masks on a voluntary basis to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.
Professor Martin Marshall told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There’s no research evidence to support wearing masks if you are basically fit and well, indeed if people wear masks there’s a risk they play around with it, they play with their eyes more and maybe you’re even at a higher risk of picking up an infection.
“However it is common sense that if they are coughing and spluttering then it makes complete sense to wear masks in order to protect other people.
“I think the guidance that we’re expecting to hear is that the wearing of face masks is a voluntary activity not mandated and it certainly makes a lot of sense to focus limited resources that we have at the moment on those who have greatest need and that’s the health professionals.”
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