As the government's scientific advisers discuss whether the public should be urged to wear masks, what is the evidence about how useful they are?
Why doesn't everyone wear a mask now?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that only two groups of people should wear protective masks, those who are:
- sick and showing symptoms, and
- caring for people suspected to have coronavirus
It says medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.
Masks are not recommended for the general public because:
- they can be contaminated by other people’s coughs and sneezes, or when putting them on or removing them,
- frequent hand-washing and social distancing are more effective, and
- they might offer a false sense of security
However, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says face masks worn by the public might help control the spread of infection by people who are contagious but do not yet have symptoms.
This might be particularly useful in busy, closed spaces, such as grocery stores, shopping centers, or when using public transport, it says.