All essential workers should be provided with face masks to combat the spread of Covid-19, the British Medical Association has urged.
It is currently not compulsory to wear a mask or face covering in public, but ministers are considering recommendations made by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) following a review of current advice.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) council, is calling on the Government to ask all members of the public to cover their mouths and noses when going outside.
He told the Daily Telegraph that the doctors’ union believes all key workers outside of the NHS should be provided with masks or suitable face coverings.
He said this includes “transport workers, shopkeepers, carers or supermarket staff” who are unable to abide by social distancing.
“Common sense tells you that a barrier between people must offer a level of protection, however small,” Dr Nagpaul said.
“The Government must pursue all avenues of reducing the spread of infection.
“This includes asking the public to wear face coverings to cover mouths and noses when people leave home for essential reasons.”
He said that until “sufficient supplies of PPE are provided” to the front line, this may initially mean members of the public wearing cloth masks and scarves.
Among those calling for a change to the advice is London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who said it will add “another layer of protection” to members of the public against the disease.
Current UK guidance has emphasised the importance of masks for doctors and nurses, but does not suggest widespread usage.
However, scientific advisers for the Government have carried out a review of the use of face masks, despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying that there is no evidence to support their use by the general population.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the Cabinet was told on Thursday that the recommendations of Sage had been submitted for ministers to consider.