Nicola Sturgeon has renewed her plea for people to wear face coverings in public and said she had “an intense sense of anxiety” of people becoming complacent as lockdown eases.
Face coverings are now mandatory – with some medical exemptions – for people travelling on public transport, but the First Minister has resisted calls to extend the policy to shops and other public places.
Speaking at the Scottish Government’s daily briefing, Ms Sturgeon disagreed with the suggestion that advice to wear face coverings in public came too late.
Arguing that “it’s not something people are used to doing”, Ms Sturgeon said she will continue to try to encourage Scots to wear face coverings before making a decision about whether to enforce the advice.
“It is probably a relatively small price to pay for keeping the virus at low levels, getting some normality back and not having the virus, which as we know, can have a big, big cost in terms of life,” she said.
“We are also learning more – almost every week right now – that this is a virus that can do long-term health damage to people who don’t die from it, so wearing a face covering is maybe not too big a price to pay for the protection that it helps give.”
Ms Sturgeon said she has “an intense sense of anxiety” about whether the infection spreads as lockdown eases.
She added: “I would encourage people, whatever the situation is around voluntary or mandatory, to do this now because we do see evidence that it makes a difference.”
Her comments followed calls from Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie for a “national mask distribution programme” to make face coverings available at bus stops, train stations and shopping centres — an idea Ms Sturgeon said she would consider.
Mr Rennie said: “People have been extraordinarily inventive in producing masks at home but making sure that everyone has access to a quality covering could be crucial in helping to keep the infection rate low as more and more of us return to our regular workplaces.
“If masks are to be mandatory on public transport and recommended elsewhere, they need to be accessible to all.
“That’s why I’m calling on the Scottish Government to work with local authorities and transport bosses. ScotRail have already taken steps to make masks available but we need a comprehensive system of supply so masks are available in a wide range of places.
“We need a national programme to make masks and sanitiser available at bus and train stations, shopping centres and other prominent locations so that everyone is safe.”
ScotRail said on Monday face coverings were worn by around 90% of customers in the week since becoming mandatory on public transport.
The national railway operator said it has handed out more than 20,000 masks at stations.
David Simpson, ScotRail Operations Director, said: “We are doing everything we can to help customers get used to the changes in rail travel and that’s why we are currently providing face masks at our busiest stations.
“But we remind our customers making essential journeys that this is only for a limited period, and they should be prepared for having their own face covering over the coming weeks and months.”
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