Wearing face coverings to combat the spread of coronavirus could become mandatory, but only if the scientific advice changes, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director said.
Professor Jason Leitch was speaking the day after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed new advice which recommends people cover their faces in some limited situations.
While the rest of the UK has yet to advise the public to wear masks, people in Scotland are urged to cover their faces with scarves or bandanas if in enclosed spaces like shops where it may not be possible to stay two metres away from others.
Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in these limited circumstances, as a precautionary measure.”
Prof Leitch stressed this advice is not mandatory, “so we are not suggesting anybody should be stigmatised or the police should stop you” if a face covering is not worn.
Asked if it could become compulsory to wear some kind of face covering, he added: “It may if the science changes again.”
It comes despite Prof Leitch saying earlier this month that global evidence suggests “masks in the general population don’t work”.
But he said on Wednesday that scientists are “often wrong in hindsight because things change, society changes and the science changes”.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme he added: “Two things have happened in the last few weeks, the first is that we’re getting low-level but increasing evidence that there is some asymptomatic spread.
“We’re not sure where it is coming from or how it is working but we know that some people are probably spreading the virus a little, so the virus is being shed in people who don’t have overt symptoms, they may have mild symptoms but people are not so good at noticing them.
“The second thing that has changed is people are beginning to wear face coverings.
“So irrespective of the advice, people are choosing to wear face coverings so what we wanted to do is put out the evidence, to the best of our knowledge.
“And we wanted to put out work and guidance on how you could do it safely if you wanted to do it and where it might be helpful to you.”
Prof Leitch added: “Our guidance is very clear – you don’t need to wear them just on your outdoor walk, you don’t need to wear them about your daily life.
“What you need to think about is if you are in an environment where social distancing is difficult – the examples we gave were public transport and shops, maybe smaller shops that can’t quite manage the two metres like our big supermarkets have done such a good job of doing – then this might be something to consider.
“And it will protect others if you have some virus that you might be spreading. It doesn’t protect you, there is pretty much no evidence that it protects you, it protects those who you are close to.”