Face coverings should be worn in enclosed public spaces, government advises

People told to avoid using surgical masks, which are needed by health workers

Jon Sharman
Monday 11 May 2020 15:00 BST
The key soundbites from Boris Johnson's lockdown statement

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People in England should wear face coverings when in enclosed public spaces, the government has said.

Everyone is advised – but not obliged – to wear a scarf, homemade mask or shop-bought mask to cover their nose and mouth.

The government said surgical-grade masks should be reserved for medical workers, however.

Scientists believe face coverings can help prevent an infectious person who does not have coronavirus symptoms from passing on the disease. But they do not protect the person wearing them.

People ought to cover their faces in some shops and on public transport, but ministers say that social distancing is still the preferred means of slowing the outbreak.

Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said the scientific evidence was not strong enough to make the wearing of masks compulsory. “This is very distinct from the PPE worn by people in healthcare and social care settings,” he said.

“We know that with this infection, people can have a period before they get symptoms when they can be infectious – probably two, possibly three days. If we can use a face covering, that may reduce the possibility of transmitting onwards.”

Prof Whitty added: “This is not an alternative to social distancing. And if people have got any symptoms they need to self-isolate with their family at home – this is not a substitute. And more important than that is to continue to wash hands.”

Shopkeepers will be able to set their own rules on whether customers should be required to cover their faces.

The advice follows Boris Johnson’s announcement that he is now encouraging people to go back to work if they cannot work from home.

The PM’s speech on Sunday night led to widespread confusion, even among government ministers, as to what people in England were now allowed to do under social distancing rules and when the changes would come into effect.

Footage from the London Underground showed commuters crammed onto trains on Monday morning.

In a spate of announcements Mr Johnson warned on Monday afternoon that restrictions on movement might have to remain in place for “the long haul” because a Covid-19 vaccine may never be found.

The Premier League can return to action next month, it was further announced. In addition, ministers are considering allowing households to merge as soon as 1 June.

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