Ministers set to discuss use of face masks in public

Ministers are to discuss whether wearing face masks in public is to be recommended in a bid to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 10:43 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 10:44 am

They have so far rejected calls for face masks to be used outside healthcare settings despite other countries, including the US and Germany, recommending them.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention changed its advice in light of evidence that a significant proportion of people with coronavirus lack symptoms and are able to spread the virus.

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A number of people are wearing masks to try to avoid contracting coronavirus (PiC: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Studies have shown mixed results over whether masks offer any protection for healthy people.

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The Government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies is expected to discuss the issue at a meeting today.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “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.”

The World Health Organisation says masks are useful in some settings, including when worn by those who are ill, but says ‘the wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence’.

England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty said the UK should prepare to endure some sort of restrictive measures for at least the rest of the year.

While the current UK lockdown is expected to be eased, ministers are working through a range of options to keep the rate of Covid-19 transmission under control.