Should we wear face masks in the UK? And what is the advice on wearing them?

29 April 2020, 16:30 | Updated: 29 April 2020, 17:09

The latest expert advice on whether face masks should be worn amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The question of whether the UK public should wear face masks has been heavily debated throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

In England and Wales, there is no official advice to wear face masks, and the government have said that we should continue practice social distancing and abide by the lockdown rules.

You can find the latest Coronavirus (Covid-19) advice from the NHS here.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a recent press briefing: "UK government advice hasn’t changed, not least because the most important thing people can do is the social distancing, as opposed to the weak science on face masks.

"There is very clear science on social distancing and the importance of it. That is the absolute priority in terms of the message to the public. The social distancing and staying at home is the thing that’s helping to save lives. That is the number one thing."

UK deputy chief scientific adviser Professor Dame Angela McLean said there was "weak evidence of a small effect in which a face mask can prevent a source of infection going from somebody who is infected to the people around them".

She added: "Under our current circumstances, anybody who has symptoms really must stay at home ... but we are also concerned that some people are infected who don’t have symptoms, or maybe don’t have symptoms yet, and that is the reason that Sage has put so much effort into looking at this question."

"But the answer is clear that the evidence is weak and the effect is small, and we have passed that on to our colleagues in government with which to make a decision."

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon, however, has introduced non-mandatory guidance that people in Scotland should where masks in enclosed spaces such as public transport.

What have experts said about face masks?

Experts have claimed that masks do help prevent the wearer from spreading the virus themselves, as the virus is spread through droplets released when an infected person coughs, talks and sneezes.

Many people have taken to wearing face masks in public
Many people have taken to wearing face masks in public. Picture: PA

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor of infection and immunity at the University of Leeds, has said that face masks can help prevent those without symptoms from spreading coroanvirus.

He said, according to MailOnline: "They are also useful for people that are themselves symptomatic in stopping coughs and sneezes.

"They also reduce the propensity for people to touch their faces, which happens many more times a day than we all realise and is a major source of infection without proper hand hygiene."

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George Gao, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told Science magazine: "This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role – you've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth.

"Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others."

Are face masks effective at protecting against coronavirus?
Are face masks effective at protecting against coronavirus? Picture: PA

What has the World Health Organisation (WHO) said about face masks?

The WHO states:

"If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.

"Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.

"Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water

"If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly."

Read more on the WHO website.

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