People in England have been urged to cover their face when using public transport or going into shops.
As officials work to relax the UK’s extreme lockdown, Britons will gradually be returning to the office, making social distancing increasingly challenging.
Government officials have therefore recommended people “aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet”.
Coronavirus: How to wear a face covering
According to government guidance, a cloth-face covering should seal your mouth and nose while allowing you to breathe comfortably.
“It can be as simple as a scarf or bandana that ties behind the head,” it states.
Latest coronavirus news, updates and advice
Officials have long stressed hand washing is among the most effective ways of warding off the infection.
They therefore advise people clean their hands thoroughly before putting a covering on and when taking it off.
Hand sanitiser containing at least 60% alcohol can also be used.
“Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth at all times and store used face coverings in a plastic bag until you have an opportunity to wash them,” states the government guidance.
“Do not touch the front of the face covering, or the part of the face covering that has been in contact with your mouth and nose.”
Loose ends of the covering should be tucked away.
“Once removed, make sure you clean any surfaces the face covering has touched,” states the guidance.
It adds coverings should be washed “regularly”, in the same load as normal laundry.
“It should be noted the guidelines are very particular regarding the wearing, handling and cleaning of masks and unless they are stringently observed, coverings will quickly become nothing more than a dirty handkerchief strapped to people’s faces”, said Dr Simon Clarke from the University of Reading.
Coronavirus: How to make your own face covering
Government officials have encouraged people to make a face covering from an old T-shirt they have lying around the house.
For a snug fit, the top should ideally be an extra-small or small.
To make the covering, cut a straight line along the front and back of the shirt, around 20cm (7.8 inches) from the bottom.
Of this section of fabric, make a 15cm-long (5.9 inches) horizontal cut through both sides of the clothing. This cut should be around 2cm (0.7 inches) below the top right-hand corner.
Cut down until you reach around 2cm from the bottom of the piece of fabric. Make another 15cm cut outwards, until you are left with a rectangular section of material that can be discarded.
Next, cut open the edge of the two long strips of fabric.
Unfold the main piece, and place it over your mouth and nose.
The four strips can be used as ties behind the head and neck.
A face covering can also be sewn using two 25cm x 25cm (9.8 inch x 9.8 inch) squares of cotton fabric, two 20cm pieces of elastic (or string or cloth strips), scissors, and a needle and thread.
First, cut out two 25cm x 25cm squares of cotton fabric. Stack the two squares on top of each other.
Fold over one side by 0.75cm (0.29 inches) and hem; repeat on the opposite side.
Make two channels by folding the double layer of fabric over 1.5cm (0.59 inches) along each side and stitching this down.
Run a 20cm length of elastic (or string or cloth strip) through the wider hem on each side of the face covering to be the ear loops.
Use a large needle to thread it through and tie the ends securely.
Gently pull on the elastic so the knots are tucked inside the hem.
Gather the sides of the covering on the elastic and adjust so the covering fits your face.
Then securely stitch the elastic in place to keep it from slipping. These elastic loops fit over the ears.
Coronavirus: How could ‘face coverings’ ward off infection?
The World Health Organization (WHO) states: “Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19.”
COVID-19 is the respiratory disease that can be triggered by the coronavirus.
“The use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted”, states the WHO guidelines.
Research has shown masks do not prevent members of the public from catching a respiratory viral infection, like the coronavirus.
They can, however, stop an infected patient passing the pathogen on via coughs or sneezes.
“Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically,” states the government guidance.
The degree of patients who carry the coronavirus without developing its tell-tale fever or cough has been debated.
On 3 March, the WHO’s director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “Evidence from China is only 1% of reported cases do not have symptoms and most of those cases develop symptoms within two days”.
Scientists from the University of Hong Kong scientists later claimed 12.1% of patients do not develop a fever.
With the number of asymptomatic patients up in the air, advising people to cover their face could prevent those who are unknowingly carrying the infection from passing it to someone who may become seriously ill.
Not everyone is convinced, however.
“The benefit of face covering is supported by neither scientific evidence nor common sense,” said Dr Antonio Lazzarino from University College London.
“The saliva droplets that face-coverings are supposed to stop have very little responsibility in the spread of COVID-19, which we now know is transmitted through minuscule particles.”
Although the guidelines urge people to wash their hands when handling a covering, Dr Lazzarino argued people will continue to touch their face throughout the day, calling it a “natural impulse”.
“Therefore, instead of helping us contain the virus, face-coverings may just help the virus spread across the world,” he said.
Professor Trish Greenhalgh from the University of Oxford argued, however, “the science on this is clear: COVID-19 is most commonly transmitted by droplets emitted when we cough, sneeze, shout, sing and even just breathe in close proximity to others.
“We can’t stay behind our front doors forever, and nobody wants a second wave of COVID-19, so covering our faces will become the new normal in public places, workplaces and on public transport.
“Incidentally, I think it’s better not to call them masks, because medical masks are what doctors and nurses wear.
“A medical mask is scratchy and uncomfortable, and isn’t designed to be kept on all day.
“We’d all prefer not to have to wear these [coverings] but if most people do wear them, we’ll flatten the curve a lot more quickly, reduce pressure on the NHS, and help the economy recover.
“Remember, cloth face coverings are for source control: my face covering protects you and your face covering protects me.”