Scots could be forced to wear face coverings in shops, on public transport and in some other public spaces as part of new measures being considered by the Scottish Government.
Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday she is prepared to force the majority of people to wear protection in areas where physical distancing is likely to be too difficult but has not yet made a final decision on the matter.
It came as Scotland reached a new milestone in the fight against coronavirus, with the daily death toll dropping to single figures for the first weekday since March and the rate of transmission also reducing slightly.
The first minister said she would “strongly encourage” people to wear face coverings – such as a piece of old fabric or a scarf, rather than a surgery-style mask – but had not yet decided whether to make the practice mandatory.
The Scottish Government first advised people to wear face coverings on April 28. Evidence has suggested wearing them could help prevent the spread of Covid-19 but some experts have warned it could create a false sense of security.
Speaking at the daily briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said she had a “duty” to consider whether the existing guidance should be strengthened.
“I said when I announced the policy some weeks back that we would keep the policy under review,” she said.
“So we haven’t reached a final position on this, but it is fair to say it is something that we are considering. I think that is inevitable.
“I understand why some people may not want to wear face coverings. It’s not the most comfortable thing to do. The scientific advice and evidence on this is not overwhelming, but there is a benefit to be had.”
The first minister said there would likely be exemptions for health reasons and among particular age groups if new measures are taken forward.
“For people who have asthma, for example, it would not be reasonable to insist that they wear face masks,” she said. “So these are careful judgements and they have to be very carefully considered.
“But as we open up more, particularly as more people go back to work in the future and more people use public transport, I think that we will want to see people, where they can, wearing a face covering.
“If we have to change the nature and the status of the advice we’re giving to people to make that happen, that has clearly got to be something that we are prepared to keep under consideration.”
Ahead of a weekend when the weather forecast is more traditionally Scottish – i.e. heavy rain – I want to particularly emphasise that you cannot and must not meet people from another household indoors.”
The R number – which measures how many people an infected person passes the virus on to – has reduced from between 0.7 and one to between 0.7 and 0.9 in a week, Ms Sturgeon confirmed.
However, she warned this does not take into account the impact of changes to lockdown announced last week.
The first minister said another nine people had died overnight from coronavirus in Scotland, taking the laboratory-confirmed total to 2,395. It represents the first weekday since March 27 when the number of deaths has been in single figures.
Despite the change in the R number and a further reduction in daily deaths, the SNP leader warned against “complacency” and said “we cannot and should not read too much into any one day’s figures”.
“I can’t stress enough how fragile it still remains because we are seeing new cases in most health board areas every day,” Ms Sturgeon said. “It remains relatively steady, which underlines the caution and care which we need to take.”
She warned meeting up with other households indoors is a “surefire way” of allowing coronavirus to spread and said the rules around physical distancing and personal hygiene outside should still be obeyed.
“Ahead of a weekend when the weather forecast is more traditionally Scottish – i.e. heavy rain – I want to particularly emphasise that you cannot and must not meet people from another household indoors,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“That is a surefire way of allowing this virus to spread again. Unless you’re willing to get your waterproofs on and meet outdoors, don’t meet up at all – I cannot emphasise that strongly enough.”