Coronavirus: Scientific advisors to give Cabinet information on whether public should wear face masks

Cabinet will be informed by its team of scientific advisors about whether it should become mandatory for the public to wear face masks amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) will pass their findings to ministers who will then decide on the next steps when it comes to face coverings.

Until now, the government and World Health Organization (WHO) have said there is no strong evidence that face masks stop people contracting Covid-19.

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wienerhas the latest on the advice around wearing masks

However, some evidence suggests that if a person has coronavirus, a mask can help to stop them spreading the respiratory disease as much.

There is little dispute, however, that clinically-approved masks, including respirators and surgical face masks, help reduce the spread of coronavirus in a healthcare setting.

Furthermore, there are fears if the nation is told to wear face masks, then the NHS could suffer a shortage.

In other European countries, including Germany, face masks have now been made mandatory in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained, for example on public transport.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said no new decision has been made on wearing masks ahead of a meeting of Sage.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Sage is meeting today (Thursday) but we haven’t yet had that advice as ministers yet.

“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and prejudge what will come out of Sage just yet.

“There’s no change at the moment.”

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Peston on Wednesday night that it was a "no-brainer" for people to wear masks when out in public.

The chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners has also said it would make sense to advise the public to wear masks on a voluntary basis to reduce the chance of the spread of coronavirus.

Ahead of the Sage meeting, there have been suggestions ministers will advise non-compulsory use.

However, there are also fears that people wearing masks will follow other rules less stringently.

Professor Martin Marshall told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “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.

“This sophisticated kit is likely to be more rigorous, more useful, but actually it’s perfectly reasonable to wear a bandanna around your mouth or whatever, that will work, it won’t be quite as good but it will be good enough.”

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know: