For the first time, people in England are being advised to wear face coverings in some enclosed spaces.
The Scottish government already recommends people wear them when in shops and on public transport.
What is the new advice?
The government for England says people should “aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet”. That would include, for example, on public transport and in some shops.
Advice in Wales and Northern Ireland has not changed and face coverings have not yet been recommended for the general public.
Why doesn’t everyone wear a mask now?
The advice talks about face coverings, rather than masks.
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently says only two groups of people should wear protective masks, those who are:
- sick and showing symptoms
- caring for people suspected to have coronavirus
It says medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.
Masks are not generally recommended for the public because:
- they can be contaminated by other people’s coughs and sneezes, or when putting them on or removing them
- frequent hand-washing and social distancing are more effective
- they might offer a false sense of security
But that doesn’t mean they have no benefit at all for the general public – it’s just that the scientific evidence is weak.
Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances – they might help stop the spread of coronavirus by people who are contagious but have no symptoms (known as asymptomatic transmission).
Coronavirus is spread by droplets that can spray into the air when those infected talk, cough and sneeze. These can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object.
What face masks are used by health workers?
The widespread use of face masks by the public could put NHS supplies at risk, says Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers.
In hospitals, different types of mask offer different grades of protection. The most protective is an FFP3 or, alternatively, an N95 or an FFP2.
NHS staff in lower-risk situations can wear a surgical mask. This includes healthcare workers within one metre of a patient with possible or confirmed Covid-19. These staff may be in hospitals, primary care, ambulance trusts, community care settings and care homes.
Where am I supposed to get a mask?
Some masks are still available online, but it can be difficult to know how safe they are and prices are often high.
Masks are out of stock in many High Street pharmacies as are those used for home improvements in many DIY stores.
And Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that, unlike in France, the government cannot promise free masks for the general public.
What about homemade face masks?
There is lots of advice online about how to make them.
Suggestions include using common household items, such as cotton fabric from old T-shirts or bedding.
The government has published advice on how to wear and make your own cloth face covering which says:
- A cloth face covering should cover your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably
- It can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head
- Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before putting it on and after taking it off and after use
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times and store used face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them
Homemade masks are not regulated, whereas officially made ones have to meet safety requirements.
Face-coverings should not be used by children under the age of two, or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly, for example primary age children unassisted, or those with respiratory conditions, says the government advice.
What do I need to know about the coronavirus?
What is happening in other countries?
Other countries have brought in different rules around the wearing of face masks.
What else can protect against coronavirus?
Gloves and other protective wear are recommended for NHS staff working in places where they could encounter coronavirus.
Again, staff in the highest-risk scenarios are advised to wear fuller protection, rather than a simple apron, gloves, mask and goggles.
The general public are not advised to wear gloves or any other protective gear.
To protect yourself from coronavirus, the NHS recommends regular and through hand washing, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and not touching your face with unwashed hands.
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