People in Wales are being asked to wear three-layer face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible – including on public transport.
But Health Minister Vaughan Gething stopped sort of making their use mandatory.
He said the recommendation was only for people not showing symptoms.
All other governments in the UK have already made recommendations on face-coverings.
They will soon be compulsory on English public transport, but up until now the Welsh Government had been reluctant to ask the public to wear them.
It comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its advice. The British Medical Association in Wales had also called for the use of face coverings.
Mr Gething said the WHO was clear in saying the widespread use of non-medical coverings by healthy people was “not yet supported by their advice”.
“However they did recommend that governments encourage the public to wear three-layer non-medical face coverings in specific settings and circumstances where other more effective measures are not possible,” he said.
As a result, he recommended “people in Wales wear three-layer face coverings in situations where social distancing is not possible”.
The most obvious example is on public transport, he said.
For people without symptoms ‘only’
Speaking at the daily Welsh Government press briefing, Mr Gething warned that the recommendation was “only” for people who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus.
“People who are symptomatic must continue to self-isolate for seven days and get a test,” he told the press conference.
He said a homemade, or bought, three-layer face covering might reduce transmission from one person to another “if made, worn, handled and removed or disposed of properly”.
Some coverings could be washable and reusable, he said.
People told not to just ‘do what they like’
People should not think they can “do what they like” if they are wearing a face covering, Mr Gething said.
He said maintaining social distancing was more effective. “Wearing a face covering cannot be an excuse for ignoring social distancing measures.”
Mr Gething also said it was not being recommended that people should wear a face-covering when doing their shopping.
“When I go out and do my weekly shop, I find that people follow the rules, that the shops themselves are making sure they don’t have lots of people going in… and people know about not going past each other,” he said.
He added that Wales’ Chief Medical Officer Frank Atherton had been clear “that the momentary passing of people in a shop is not the sort of risk that we’re looking to cover”.
What was the advice to Welsh Government?
However, despite Mr Gething’s comments about shops, advice from the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) said busy retailers were one setting where face coverings should be worn.
“Members of the public should be encouraged to wear face coverings only where it is difficult or not possible to observe social distancing (e.g. public transport, busy shops),” a document from TAC said.
The group, which provides scientific advice to ministers, said coverings “might” reduce transmission if “made, worn, handled and cleaned or disposed of properly”.
A face covering serves a “different purpose” to a medical face mask, TAC said.
“A face covering principally acts to protect others by retarding the transmission of small droplets containing viral particles into the environment. Well-fitted medical face masks serve to protect the wearer from infection and others from transmission if the wearer is infectious.
“Face coverings are likely to benefit others, as much as or more than they do for the wearer.”
But it added that scientific evidence “was not robust on the benefits of face coverings, with mainly observational findings supporting the role in preventing transmission.
“It should be noted that this has not been extensively studied to date, and further studies are expected.”
An expert who helped lead Hong Kong’s investigation into Sars said wearing masks was a sensible way of controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
Prof Sian Griffiths told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast: “In Hong Kong people wear masks to stop them spreading infection if they have it themselves – independent of whether it’s coronavirus.
“If you have an upper respiratory tract virus people will wear masks and so it’s actually just part of social hygiene.
“We need to take the hygiene messages seriously still, the hand washing shouldn’t go away, but masks are part of that whole approach.”