Experts working for the Government have told ministers that coverings could help to stop “asymptomatic people” – those who are infected but not showing symptoms – from passing on the disease.
The guidance is set to say that those who can’t stay more than 2m apart at work and on buses and trains should wear a cloth face mask, such as a homemade mask, scarf or other non-surgical covering to help slow the spread of the virus.
Experts from SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) met yesterday to consider key evidence.
Ministers are expected to study the findings over the next few days before making the decision public and changing official guidance.
It’s believed that the experts think face coverings won’t help stop Brits from catching the virus themselves, but could help in stopping them spread it to others.
A Whitehall source told HOAR: “No decision is going to be made which would take medical masks away from the NHS.
“Everybody is very clear on that.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said last night: “On the use of facemasks we are advised by the science and we listen to what the scientists say.
“There was a meeting of SAGE… I look forward to hearing from that and then ministers making decisions based on the science.”
Face coverings – such as a scarf or home made mask – are different to the surgical masks that doctors and nurses have to wear in hospitals.
Yesterday hospital bosses warned the Government not to recommend people wear these, or they should face shortages in the NHS.
Chief exec of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, Chris Hopson said: “Securing the supply of masks, when there is huge global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration.
“If the Government is going to consider advising the general public to wear facemasks it must fully assess the impact on the NHS.”
It comes after weeks of debate from experts on whether face masks will have an effect on the spread of the virus or not.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is no evidence to support the use of face masks by the general population – and only people in health care settings should use them.
But earlier this week 100 top doctors called for the public to wear face coverings for everyone to wear face masks whenever they leave their home, piling pressure on scientists to change tack.
Americans in some states are being told to wear them when they go outside, and people in France will be given them when lockdown measures are eased in the coming weeks.
The German state of Saxony has made them compulsory in shops and on public transport, and Spain is giving them out to commuters.
Oxford University Professor Trish Greenhalgh, who has published evidence reviewing facemasks said they do help stop the spread of coronavirus.
She told The Times: “Your mask doesn’t protect you but it protects other people. A mask needs to be an item of clothing.
“It’s like a T-shirt, wear it and chuck it in the wash. Detergent kills Covid.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and former PM Tony Blair have both added their voices to the calls for facial coverings and masks.
Ministers have been considering for weeks whether to change advice, but have insisted they will be guided by the science.
Teachers have also warned they may not go back to school without masks or other PPE to protect them.