Office staff could be asked to wear masks to allow a widespread return to work.
Ministers are discussing ordering the use of protective equipment in the workplace and on public transport, the Daily Mail can reveal.
They believe it could be the only way to allow a widespread return to normality once the home lockdown ends.
Millions, including factory workers, could be asked to wear masks and gloves while working indoors.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab last night confirmed the lockdown will go on until at least May 7, and hinted it could last until June. Mr Raab, deputising for Boris Johnson, acknowledged it was ‘rough going’.
Ministers are currently discussing ordering protective equipment in the workplace and believe it could be the only way to allow a widespread return to normality once the UK lockdown ends. Pictured: A woman wears a face mask in London
Last night Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed the UK lockdown will go on until at least May 7
But he said it would be ‘irresponsible’ to set a timetable for lifting the lockdown when the virus was still killing hundreds each day.
Ministers are in frantic talks on when and how to ease restrictions costing an estimated £2billion a day. As well as a rise in testing and tracing it will mean measures to reduce infection in day-to-day life. The move came as:
In Italy, book store owners of the bookshop Equilibri prepare the shop for the reopening on April 20
Meanwhile in Spain a woman is seen wearing a face mask as she works in her bakery
What the experts say
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh
Primary care research, Oxford University
‘If 100 per cent of population wears them, reduction in the amount of virus in air is substantial.’
Professor Babak Javid
Tsinghua University School of Medicine
‘There’s likely to be an upside to wearing them and practically no downside.’
Dr David Nabarro
WHO coronavirus special convoy
‘We are saying get societies defended. Yes, we will have to wear masks.’
Professor Ian Jones
Virology, University of Reading
‘Masks have value, otherwise healthcare workers wouldn’t wear them.’
Dr Simon Clarke
Microbiology, Reading University
‘Advising their use could be a way of reassuring people back to work.’
A Cabinet source told the Mail ministers accepted social distancing would have to continue for many months to prevent a deadly second wave.
‘We are starting to see other countries like Germany ease their lockdowns and I don’t think we will want to be too far behind, given the impact on the economy,’ the source said.
‘But everyone accepts – including industry – that the next phase is not going to be a return to business as usual. We will need intensive testing and tracing of suspected cases.
‘And we will have to have social distancing in factories and offices – we will need personal protective equipment in the workplace. Otherwise we are going to be back in this situation again.’
The use of face masks is common in China, Japan and South Korea. Until recently, ministers have dismissed the idea here, saying masks give little protection and a false sense of security.
But a review is under way after ‘persuasive’ evidence emerged that they help stop those with the virus spreading it.
And Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty last night confirmed discussions about public use of face masks were a ‘very live issue’. He added: ‘What we are really trying to do is to work out under what circumstances, if any, should we extend the advice.’
Downing Street refused to be drawn on whether workers could be asked to wear masks, but confirmed ministers are ready to change the official guidance if the review supports it.
However, any move towards the widespread use of masks by the public would require a massive increase in the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned last week that members of the public wearing masks risked increasing shortages for NHS staff on the front line. Professor Whitty said he remained concerned that advising the public to wear masks could lead to shortages.
Social care staff already complain that they are being left to work without masks and other key equipment.
Yesterday, the leader of Birmingham City Council warned ministers supplies of PPE were running ‘desperately low’, with the city’s care homes likely to run out of masks in a fortnight.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan last night called for it to be made compulsory for people to wear masks in public while the Covid-19 epidemic continues.
He said: ‘I am hopeful that the advice from scientists will change.
‘The evidence around the world is that this is effective.
‘I am lobbying our Government, our advisers, to change their advice and I want us to do that sooner rather than later.’
The decision to extend the lockdown was confirmed at a meeting of the Government’s emergency committee, Cobra, also attended by Nicola Sturgeon and leaders from Wales and Northern Ireland.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Raab acknowledged the huge disruption caused to normal life by the restrictions.
But he added: ‘We’re now at both a delicate and dangerous stage of this pandemic. If we rush to relax the measures in place, we would risk wasting all the sacrifices and all the progress we have made.
‘And that would risk a quick return to another lockdown. With all the threat to life a second peak of the virus would bring, and all the economic damage a second lockdown would carry. So we need to be patient a while longer.’
- Latest coronavirus video news, views and expert advice at mailplus.co.uk/ coronavirus
How face masks got the EU back to work
Across Europe, authorities are placing their faith in face masks to help beat coronavirus as they come out of lockdown.
Spain expects to hand out ten million masks this week. Everyone on public transport was handed one when industry began to open up again on Monday.
Masks also are a big part of France’s post-lockdown plan, with the likelihood they will be made compulsory in public when restrictions lift on May 11.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said masks should be worn on public transport and when shopping in Germany from Monday.
Some regions have imposed their own rules but the Italian government has stuck to WHO advice, saying only those with underlying health conditions and those who have symptoms of Covid-19 need wear one.
Masks are compulsory for those going outside in the Czech Republic and Slovenia and anyone going into a supermarket in Austria.