Is not wearing face coverings in public anti-social?

Everyone should wear a face covering in public to reduce the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 infections, the president of the Royal Society has urged.

Professor Venki Ramakrishnan said people should wear a mask when they leave home - particularly in enclosed indoor spaces - but acknowledged that the public remain "sceptical" about the benefits.

Not wearing them outside the home should be considered as "anti-social" as drink-driving, or failing to wear a seat belt, he said.

There are a spectrum of views… and there are ongoing discussions about face coverings now. What we can say is, if the evidence had been absolutely clear in one direction or another then different guidance would have come out and it’s evidence that is accumulating all of the time… I bet you’ll get a lot of viewers ringing in or writing to you saying, and in fact I’m one of them, I find that if I can’t see people’s lips move I have a slight hearing problem. So there are all sorts of issues about how this lands in the public and what we do not want, for example, is stigmatisation around people who are not wearing face coverings…

Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries

It comes as two new reports on face coverings were published by the scientific body, including one which found the UK was slower to take up wearing them compared with other countries.

Prof Ramakrishnan said: "The virus has not been eliminated, so, as we lift lockdown and people increasingly interact with each other, we need to use every tool we have to reduce the risk of a second wave of infection.

"There are no silver bullets, but alongside hand washing and physical distancing, we also need everyone to start wearing face coverings, particularly indoors in enclosed public spaces where physical distancing is often not possible."

Prof Ramakrishnan said the UK is "way behind" other countries in wearing face coverings, as he claimed that messaging has been unclear and that "inconsistent" guidance has led to people following their own preferences.

"Whatever the reasons, we need to overcome our reservations and wear face coverings whenever we are around others in public," he said. "If all of us wear one, we protect each other and thereby ourselves, reducing transmission."