Boris Johnson has suggested that the use of face coverings could be advised as part of measures to ease the lockdown.
The Prime Minister said on Thursday that they will be “useful” both for stemming the disease as well as “giving people confidence” that they can go back to work.
Mr Johnson, in his first Downing Street press conference since being stricken with Covid-19, said that the UK is “past the peak of this disease” and “on the downward slope”.
He promised to deliver a “comprehensive plan” next week on how to get people back to work and children back to school, after taking advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Part of this, he said in response to a question, could be the use of face coverings, using the term which sets them apart from medical-quality masks.
“What I think Sage is saying, and what I certainly agree with, is that as part of coming out of the lockdown, I do think that face coverings will be useful both for epidemiological reasons but also for giving people confidence they can go back to work,” the PM said.
There has been some concern that individuals may be overly cautious about returning to work when measures are eased, after weeks of strong messaging from the Government.
Experts have argued that coverings are unlikely to prevent an individual from contracting the virus, but may reduce the number of infected people who are not showing symptoms from spreading Covid-19.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already recommended people in Scotland wear coverings in places where staying two metres apart was challenging, such as in shops and on public transport.
But chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance has said there is only “quite weak” evidence to show that masks help prevent the transmission of coronavirus.
Concerns have also been raised that strong public uptake of masks could deprive NHS and other essential workers from having the protective equipment they need.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove on Wednesday said the Government was anxious that people may act in a “cavalier” way if told to wear masks.
“The scientific evidence so far says face coverings can have an effect in preventing an individual from spreading the disease to others if they have it and are asymptomatic,” he told MPs.
“But there is also a worry that some people may think that wearing a mask protects themselves, as distinct to protecting others, and therefore they may behave in a manner that is slightly more cavalier.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has been calling for wider use of coverings, welcomed Mr Johnson’s announcement.
“I am pleased that the Prime Minister has said that non-medical face coverings will play an important role as we eventually look to lift lockdown restrictions,” the Labour mayor said.