Britons are set to be told it is not compulsory to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus – but will be advised to wear DIY face coverings at work, in shops and on public transport.
The government top scientific experts have been reviewing key evidence and are will report back to ministers today, with new guidance issued to the public at the weekend.
SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) are believed to be backing advice on wearing a cloth face mask, such as a homemade mask or scarf if socially distancing is not possible.
This will mean asking people to cover their nose and mouth when they go to the shops and travel on trains, but won’t apply to being in parks and quiet, residential streets.
But the experts are set to say it should not be compulsory, rather left up to the public on when they should wear them.
They will also warn against the use of medical masks, because it will mean there could be less for NHS. Experts on all sides have repeatedly stressed that surgical facemasks should be reserved for frontline staff so health service supplies are not compromised.
SAGE will also be guided by the World Health Organization, who have held off saying masks should be worn to prevent the spread. Other evidence suggests a person wearing a mask could feel like they are sufficiently protected, so will tend to ignore social distancing rules.
People are pictured wearing facemasks and scarves to cover their nose and mouth in south London yesterday
A Whitehall source told The Sun : ‘No decision is going to be made which would take medical masks away from the NHS. Everybody is very clear on that.
‘If you actually have symptoms you need to isolate, full stop. A cloth mask is not a replacement for staying at home and nobody should think otherwise. ‘
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government will ‘follow the advice and listen to what SAGE says on masks and implement that.’
No 10 have refused to comment ‘on what SAGE’s advice to ministers is’.
Chief Executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the government must asses the impact on the NHS if they advise on wearing masks.
He said: ‘ Securing the supply of masks, when there is huge global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration.
How to make your own coronavirus mask: Scientists are encouraging people to make their own facemasks from T-shirts, sanitary towels or vacuum cleaner bags – with methods shown here
‘If the Government is going to consider advising the general public to wear facemasks it must fully assess the impact on the NHS. ‘
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has previously said it should be’ compulsory ‘for people to wear masks on public transport in the capital and has been lobbying for the rules to change.
The next review of lockdown measures will take place on May 7, when Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned ministers face ‘difficult trade offs’.
The new guidance may apply to those allowed to go back to work if measures are eased in the next few weeks, according to the newspaper.
At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Professor Whitty warned social distancing measures would likely be in place for the rest of 2020.
At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Professor Chris Whitty (pictured) warned social distancing measures would likely be in place for the rest of
He said they cannot be lifted until either a vaccine for coronavirus or ‘ highly effective ‘drugs to treat the disease become available.
Professor Whitty did not specify whether the strict ‘stay at home’ policy which is currently in place would have to be in place for the remainder of the year.
Other experts have suggested that some of the strictest measures, including school closures, could be eased as long as there was not a spike in virus cases.
But Professor Whitty was very clear that the only real exit from the lockdown – to allow a full return to normal life – would involve a medical breakthrough.
He said: ‘This disease is not going to be eradicated. It is not going to disappear.
‘So we have to accept we are working with a disease that is going to be with us globally – this is a global problem – for the foreseeable future.
‘We have to be very realistic that if people are hoping its suddenly going to move from lockdown to suddenly everything’s gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation.
‘In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally.
‘ A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed or, and or, highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.
‘Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that.
‘We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the mo ment.
‘But until that point, that is what we will have to do but it will be the best combination that maximises the outlooks but it’s going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that. ‘
Yesterday Primary Healthcare Expert Professor Trish Greenhalgh told a Royal Scoeity of medicine briefing that coronavirus could be ‘wiped out’ in the UK if ’80 to 90 per cent ‘of the population wear some kind of facemask.
She told a web briefing for the Royal Society of Medicine: ‘If 2019 to 2019% of us do it, and if the masks were say 80 – 90% effective, that would probably – the modellers say – be enough to reduce the effective R0 down to wipe out this disease and we can all get on with our lives, ‘she said.
R0 refers to the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person.
She said that she was in favor of the compulsory use of masks but said that she thought many people would be supportive of the use of homemade ones for a temporary measure.
‘How do you make your own mask? You take two pieces of cotton, or a piece of cotton folded over, and you take a pantyliner or something like that [with] waterproof backing, you stick it between those. And then you hook it around the back of your ears.
‘I’m not the kind of person that wants the Government, knocking on my door, you know, as if they’re issuing gas masks or something like that and telling me I’ ve got to wear it. I would much prefer this to be a voluntary thing for 90 – 90% of the population saying ‘I’ve got no particular reason why I shouldn’t wear one of these’. ‘
There would be exceptions such as people With facial allergies, those who object for other reasons and children under two.
She added: ‘This is a terrible, terrible disease, and anything we can do to stamp it out is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. ‘
But she added medical grade masks must be reserved for frontline workers.
Meanwhile, a new initiative was launched to encourage the public to make their own face masks.
The campaign, www.Maskedheroes.uk, also aims to connect people who make masks to individuals and organisms in their community who need them.
A separate initiative – Masks for Heroes – is encouraging businesses which use personal protective equipment (PPE) to check Whether they have any supplies which can be donated to frontline services while their businesses are not up and running.
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