Will masks in public finally get the go-ahead? After Nicola Sturgeon tells Scots to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces, Downing Street hints a similar order for England may be just round the corner
- Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon said face coverings should be used in small spaces
- Downing Street said Government hasn’t decided whether or not to follow suit
- Spokesman said No 10 wanted to ensure all four nations move in step on issue
Ministers appear ready to ask commuters and shoppers to wear face masks in public after Scotland went ahead and announced the move last night.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said face coverings should be used in enclosed spaces where social distancing is hard to maintain.
Downing Street said the Government has not yet decided whether to follow suit in the rest of the UK after receiving evidence from the Sage scientific advisory group for emergencies last week.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman gave a clear hint that it could do so by saying No 10 wanted to ensure that all four nations move in step on the issue.
Pictured: A woman wearing a face mask walks on Brighton seafront, East Sussex, on April 19
And Michael Gove revealed that a Treasury minister is leading a ‘domestic effort’ to ensure that enough face coverings are available should the Government change its guidance.
However, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the daily Downing Street press conference yesterday that the evidence in favour of wearing face masks was ‘weak’.
He added: ‘The UK Government’s position has not changed, not least because the most important thing that people can do is social distancing as opposed to the weak science on face masks, so that is our absolute priority.’
Ministers have been coming under growing pressure to provide clear guidance on the use of face masks amid hopes it could encourage the public to go back to work and help get the economy back on track. The Mail revealed earlier this month that ministers were considering the move.
In her daily Covid-19 briefing yesterday, Miss Sturgeon said her government was now advising the limited use of face coverings made of cloth, including scarves, for everyone above the age of two.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (pictured) said face coverings should be used in enclosed spaces where social distancing is hard to maintain
Pictured: A man, wearing a protective face mask, checks his mobile phone during a lockdown imposed to slow the rate of coronavirus in Paris
She added: ‘We are recommending that you do wear a cloth face covering if you are in an enclosed space with others where social distancing is difficult, for example public transport or in a shop.’
The use of the more general term ‘coverings’ differentiates them from medical-grade masks amid concerns greater public uptake could lead to a shortage for NHS staff.
Miss Sturgeon did not make their use mandatory, conceding evidence over their use is ‘still limited’, but said there are benefits in wearing coverings to reduce transmission from individuals who are not yet exhibiting symptoms.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said ministers ‘are considering the advice they have been given and once a decision has been reached then we will announce it publicly’.
No 10 insisted Mr Johnson wanted to maintain a UK-wide response as far as possible.
Pictured: A young woman wears a protective mask as she waits for the tram in Brussels
Pictured: A woman wears a face mask as she walks on Oxford Street, London amid the Covid-19 crisis
Downing Street said the Government has not yet decided whether to follow suit in the rest of the UK after receiving evidence from the Sage scientific advisory group for emergencies last week
Asked whether it was helpful for Miss Sturgeon to break ranks from the four-nation approach to the lockdown, the spokesman said: ‘There have been points in the response so far where announcements have been made at ever so slightly different times.
‘But by and large we have moved forward in a single four-nation approach. The devolved administrations have all said that they hope that continues to be the case and we would agree with that.’
Dame Angela McLean, the UK’s deputy chief scientific adviser, has said: ‘The recommendation from Sage is completely clear that there is weak evidence of a small effect in which a face mask can prevent a source of infection. We passed that on to colleagues in Government with which to make a decision.’
Mr Gove stressed the importance of easing any lockdown restrictions in ‘as united a way as possible’ across the UK.
Challenged in the Commons on whether the UK had enough face masks for non-NHS workers, he stressed the difference between surgical masks and ‘face coverings’ but added that Lord Agnew, the joint Cabinet Office and Treasury minister, ‘has launched a domestic effort to ensure that we produce just such masks’.
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