The official advice to the British public is that there is no need for everyone to wear a face mask to slow the spread of coronavirus.
It comes after health professionals, political leaders and the World Health Organization (WHO) said people do not need to use protective face masks to shield them against COVID-19.
However, the US government is formalising new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings, while the WHO is also said to be reconsidering its stance on the general public wearing masks.
Public Health England maintain masks should be worn by people who are sick or caring for those that have contracted the virus.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said he has not been advised to change the UK’s approach on the public wearing of coverings.
He maintained the masks would be better saved for healthcare workers and those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
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Hancock told Good Morning Britain: “I haven’t been advised that we should do that. I’ll follow the scientific advice on that, which was very clear when we went through it at the start.
“Masks are very important to protect healthcare workers who might have a lot of incoming virus but [ the public being advised to wear face masks] isn’t something that we’ve done here because we’ve followed the advice and we’ve followed the medical and scientific advice and the whole basis of our response has been making sure that we follow the science.”
Scotland’s national clinical director also said face masks will not help the general public fend off coronavirus.
According to Professor Jason Leitch, surgical masks can be useful to stop the spread of the disease through droplets if worn by those who have contracted or for healthcare workers dealing with people showing symptoms of COVID-19.
He said there was no evidence to support claims the masks will stop people from contracting the disease.
Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The global evidence – and we’ve looked properly, I promise you – is that masks in the general population don’t work.
“People don’t wear them properly, they’re hard, they’re difficult, they’re uncomfortable. Masks are not fun – particularly the very high end masks.”
Backing up the comments, Ian Jones - a Professor of virology, at the University of Reading - said:
“What confuses people about mask use is whether it provides absolute protection; does it stop all viruses?
“The answer to that, for most masks, is no. But if you ask if it stops some viruses, the answer is yes.
“If an aerosol droplet hits the weave of the mask fabric rather than the hole it is clearly arrested. And lessening the aerosol dose chips away at the R0 and helps to slow the epidemic.
“If approved masks can be sourced there is clearly a case for making them widely available - how about at cost through the Boots tie-up just announced?
“They are not a cure but they address the longer flatter epidemic curve everyone is trying to achieve.”
Meanwhile, in the US, recommendations are expected to apply to those who live in areas hardest-hit by community transmission of the virus.
Medical-grade masks are being reserved for those in the country dealing directly with infected people.
Donald Trump indicated on Thursday that he would support such a recommendation, saying: “If people wanted to wear them, they can.”
Under the previous guidance, only the sick or those at high risk of complications from the respiratory illness were advised to wear masks.
However, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) George Gao said it was a “big mistake” that compulsory face covering measures were not being enforced in the US and Europe.
Gao told Science magazine: “This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role – you've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth.
“Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”
Other countries around the world are making it compulsory for citizens to wear masks.
In Europe, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bosnia-Herzegovina have introduced strict measures, while residents in the Philippines are ordered to wear a mask while out in public.
In Japan, the government plans to post two gauze masks to each of the country’s 50 million households.