Precautionary use of face coverings recommended in Scotland


In her daily briefing, First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has recommended the use of face coverings in certain circumstances as a precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.


The evidence on the use of face coverings is limited, but the Scottish Government has said that there may be some benefit in wearing a facial covering when you leave the house and enter enclosed spaces, especially where physical distancing is more difficult and where there is a risk of close contact with multiple people you do not usually meet.


Examples include the following situations:


  • Travelling on public transport.
  • Entering a food shop where it is not always possible to maintain a 2-metre distance from another customer.


The guidance published today highlights that there is no evidence to suggest there might be a benefit outdoors, unless in an unavoidable crowded situation, where there may be some benefit. It goes on to say that as some people can have the virus but experience no symptoms (asymptomatic infection), wearing a face-covering in the situations outlined above may provide some level of protection against transmission to other people in close proximity.


However, it remains the case that anyone with symptoms and all members of their household (whether they have symptoms or not), must self-isolate and adhere to the guidance on individual and household isolation on NHS Inform.


The statement is at pains to point out that by face coverings the Government do not mean the wearing of a surgical or other medical-grade mask but a facial covering of the mouth and nose, that is made of cloth or other textiles and through which you can breathe, for example, a scarf.


Scottish Government are recommending that the population consider using face coverings in the limited circumstances described above as a precautionary measure.


Given that the evidence of impact on transmission is relatively weak, the public use of facial coverings is not being made mandatory and will not be enforced at this stage.


In her daily briefing First Minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon commented:


“I want to address the issue of face coverings, an issue which has attracted lots of attention recently. Guidance on this has just been published on the Scottish Government’s website.


“I want to stress at the outset that I am talking here about face coverings made of cloth or other textiles, such as a scarf. I am not talking about medical-grade face masks that health and social care workers wear.


“The guidance makes clear that the most important step we can all take to prevent transmission of the virus is to comply with the current stay at home, social distancing and hygiene rules. Face coverings are not, I repeat not, a substitute for any of that.


“The guidance also makes clear that the evidence on the use of face coverings is still limited. However, it recognises that there may be 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. Of course just now, most shops are closed so this would apply in particular to food shops.


“To be clear the benefit comes mainly in cases where someone has the virus but isn’t aware of that because they are not experiencing symptoms and therefore not isolating completely – so wearing a face-covering in these circumstances may reduce the chance of that person transmitting the virus to others.


“The Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in these limited circumstances as a precautionary measure. Given that the evidence is relatively weak, we are not at this stage making this mandatory or suggesting that it will be enforced, though we will keep that under review as we go into future phases of managing and tackling the pandemic.


“And of course, it is worth bearing in mind that there are some people – people with asthma, for example – may have very good reasons for choosing not to cover their mouth and nose when they are out and about.  And we are not recommending the use of face coverings for children under the age of two.


“However, to repeat we are recommending that you do wear a cloth face if you are in an enclosed space with others where social distancing is difficult, for example on public transport or in a shop. Let me emphasise the key point here which is that you should not really be in situations very often like that right now if you are complying with the stay at home rules.


“The guidance states that there is no evidence at this stage to suggest that there are benefits to wearing a face covering outside, except in unavoidably crowded situations. Again, we are keeping that aspect under review. The guidance also includes some information on how to safely apply and wash coverings. When you are applying or removing the face covering, you should wash your hands first, and avoid touching your face. And after each time you wear the covering, you must wash it at 60 degrees centigrade, or dispose of it safely.


“The detailed guidance, as I’ve said, is available on the Scottish Government’s website, and the guidance on the NHS Inform website will also be updated very soon.


“The most important point I want to stress is this one. The wearing of facial coverings is an extra precaution that you can and, we are suggesting, you should take. It may do some good in some limited circumstances. It is not – and must not be seen as – a substitute for the other rules and guidelines that we have been stressing.”



This circular is being shared under the Open Government Copyright licence.


Published by

PIP editor

A pharmacist led training provider.

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