Coronavirus: Britain to stockpile masks for public to make shopping and transport safer

The government has confirmed that it is stockpiling face masks that are expected to be recommended for general use during the coronavirus outbreak.

Ministers have so far stopped short of advising Britons to wear the protective masks when going outside, because the science behind how effective they are is “weak”.

However, Michael Gove said on Tuesday that a “domestic effort” was being made to produce more face masks, when questioned about the issue in Parliament.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: A couple sit on the Central Line Tube wearing protective face masks while reading a newspaper on March 19, 2020 in London, England. Transport for London announced the closure of up to 40 stations as officials advised against non-essential travel. Bus and London Overground service will also be reduced. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)
A couple sit on the Central Line Tube wearing protective face masks. (Getty)

He said: “I can confirm Lord Agnew, the joint Cabinet Office and Treasury minister, has launched a domestic effort to ensure we produce just such masks, and that is part of the broader effort that Lord Deighton is leading on ensuring we can bolster the production of personal protection equipment.”

His remarks came as Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon recommended wearing face masks in public in "limited circumstances”.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - APRIL 21: Nicola Sturgeon MSP First Minister of Scotland during a special coronavirus Covid-19 social distancing First Ministers Questions at the Scottish Parliament Holyrood on April 21, 2020 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. The British government has extended the lockdown restrictions first introduced on March 23 that are meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Fraser Bremner - Pool/Getty Images)
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon recommended wearing face masks in public in 'limited circumstances'. (Getty)

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She said: "We are recommending that you do wear a cloth face covering if you are in an enclosed space with others where social distancing is difficult, for example public transport or in a shop.”

The policy appears to contradict earlier advice from Scotland's national clinical director, professor Jason Leitch, who said on 3 April: "The global evidence – and we've looked properly, I promise you – is that masks in the general population don't work.

In this image made available by British government because no media allowed into 10 Downing Street because of the coronavirus pandemic, showing British lawmaker Michael Gove holding a Digital Press Conference on COVID-19, in 10 Downing Street, London, Friday March 27, 2020. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus Friday along with other members of the government, and has self isolated. (Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via AP)
Michael Gove said the government was stockpiling protective face masks. (AP)

"People don't wear them properly, they're hard, they're difficult, they're uncomfortable.”

Sturgeon added that the new guidance is related to "face coverings made of cloth or other textiles, such as a scarf" and not medical-grade masks.

Sturgeon said the guidance "recognises there maybe some benefit in wearing a face covering if you leave the house and enter an enclosed space where you will come into contact with multiple people and safe social distancing is difficult, for example on public transport or in shops".

The UK government has so far delayed any announcement on wearing masks in public until it has stockpiled enough for public use, according to The Telegraph.

However, the prime minister’s official spokesman denied any decision on the issue had been made.

He said a review by the government’s scientific advisory group Sage “has been sent to ministers, who are reviewing it carefully. Once a decision has been reached we will announce it publicly.

"Ministers are considering the advice and once we reach a decision we will say so."

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