Face coverings have 'weak but positive effect' in slowing spread of coronavirus, No 10 says

Wearing face coverings in public can have a "weak but positive effect" in reducing the transmission of coronavirus, Downing Street has said.

But a Number 10 spokesman stopped short of recommending the use of face coverings, with ministers "still considering" the "precise advice" to the public should be.

The government is not considering recommending the use of clinical face masks, or any form of PPE that could take supplies away from the frontline.

Germany has ordered its citizens to wear face coverings on public transport. Credit: AP

Ministers have been receiving advice on the effectiveness of face coverings from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) for some time but have been reluctant to advise their use.

“The advice we have received based on the science shows a weak but positive effect in reducing transmission of coronavirus from asymptomatic members of the public where social distancing isn’t possible," the Downing Street spokesman said.

“What ministers need to consider is how best to produce advice for the public on the next steps and that work is still ongoing.”

Several other countries around the world have made the wearing of face masks - or coverings - compulsory in some public settings.

Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Morocco, and Germany are just some of the countries to make the wearing of face masks mandatory in places such as supermarkets and on public transport.

At Thursday evening's coronavirus press conference, Boris Johnson said face coverings could be "useful" when the UK moves into the next stage of its strategy to fight the virus.

He said they could help “both for epidemiological reasons but also giving people confidence they can go back to work”.

Earlier this week Scotland became the first region in Britain to recommend the use of face coverings in "limited circumstances".

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said face coverings, such as a scarf - as opposed to "medical grade face masks" - might be of "some benefit" in places such as public transport or supermarkets, where social distancing is difficult.

But she warned face coverings are "not a substitute" for social distancing and said there's "limited" evidence on how useful they are.

Experts say face masks do not protect the wearer from catching infection, but stop the wearer from passing it on to other people.

On Thursday evening the prime minister said he would set out a "road map" next week for how the UK could come out of lockdown, and it is thought face coverings will form part of that plan.

But he said he "cannot say exactly when" steps will be taken to ease lockdown and until that moment "we are going to have to beat this disease by our growing resolve and ingenuity".

He added: “I will be setting out a comprehensive plan next week to explain how we can get our economy moving, our children back to school and into childcare, and thirdly how we can travel to work and make life in the workplace safer.

“In short, how we can continue to suppress the disease and at the same time restart the economy.”