People in Wales are being asked to wear three-layer face coverings on public transport and other situations where social distancing is not possible.
The new advice from the Welsh Government stopped sort of making their use mandatory.
Health Minister Vaughan Gething said the recommendation was only for people not showing symptoms.
All other governments in the UK have already made recommendations on face-coverings.
They will soon be compulsory on English public transport, but up until now the Welsh Government had been reluctant to ask the public to wear them.
It comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its own advice. The British Medical Association in Wales had also called for the use of face coverings.
But the Unite union expressed disappointment, saying face coverings should be mandatory on buses and trains.
What kind of masks should I use and should I wash them?
According to the Welsh Government:
- Cotton masks should be used instead of silk or nylon, and should not be worn for more than four hours
- Anyone wearing a covering should wash their hands after use, even if it’s only been used for a short period
- Coverings should be washed after use
- If someone commutes on a train or bus twice a day then they should use a different covering for each journey, unless they can wash the covering they used for the first trip
Should I use one if I have symptoms?
Speaking at the daily Welsh Government press briefing, Mr Gething warned that the recommendation was “only” for people who are not showing symptoms of coronavirus.
“People who are symptomatic must continue to self-isolate for seven days and get a test,” he told the press conference.
He said a homemade, or bought, three-layer face covering might reduce transmission from one person to another “if made, worn, handled and removed or disposed of properly”.
He added people should not think they can “do what they like” if they are wearing a face covering. Maintaining social distancing was more effective, Mr Gething said.
“Wearing a face covering cannot be an excuse for ignoring social distancing measures.”
Mr Gething did not recommend that people should wear a face-covering when doing their shopping.
“When I go out and do my weekly shop, I find that people follow the rules, that the shops themselves are making sure they don’t have lots of people going in… and people know about not going past each other,” he said.
What was the scientific advice?
Despite Mr Gething’s comments about shops, advice from the Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) said busy retailers are one setting where face coverings should be worn.
“Members of the public should be encouraged to wear face coverings only where it is difficult or not possible to observe social distancing (e.g. public transport, busy shops),” a document from TAC said.
The group, which provides scientific advice to ministers, said coverings “might” reduce transmission if “made, worn, handled and cleaned or disposed of properly”.
A face covering serves a “different purpose” to a medical face mask, TAC said.
“A face covering principally acts to protect others by retarding the transmission of small droplets containing viral particles into the environment. Well-fitted medical face masks serve to protect the wearer from infection and others from transmission if the wearer is infectious.
“Face coverings are likely to benefit others, as much as or more than they do for the wearer.”
But it added that scientific evidence “was not robust”.
Plaid Cymru’s health spokesman Rhun ap Iorwerth said he was “surprised that the Welsh Government took so long to respond to the overwhelming international evidence that face coverings can be a very useful weapon in the war against coronavirus”.
“But better late than never,” he said.
The Welsh Government has declined to make the advice mandatory, in part because of concerns it could prove to be discriminatory to people from more deprived areas, the deaf and those with autism.
But Peter Hughes, the Wales Regional Secretary for the Unite union, criticised the Welsh Government for not doing so.
“To be honest I am a bit disappointed in the Welsh Government for this because it sends a very different message to what they’re doing in England,” he said.
He said the difference over the border sends a “very mixed message”, adding: “We don’t want a bus driver to be a statistic of this terrible disease.”
‘Part of the whole approach’
An expert who helped lead Hong Kong’s investigation into Sars said wearing masks was a sensible way of controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
Prof Sian Griffiths told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast: “In Hong Kong people wear masks to stop them spreading infection if they have it themselves – independent of whether it’s coronavirus.
“If you have an upper respiratory tract virus people will wear masks and so it’s actually just part of social hygiene.
“We need to take the hygiene messages seriously still, the hand washing shouldn’t go away, but masks are part of that whole approach.”