Evidence suggests that if we all wear face coverings, we can protect one another. The WHO, the CDC and Public Health England all advise that they are worn in public, in areas with high Covid-19 infection rates. In the UK face coverings are now compulsory on public transport and in shops. Face coverings are not to protect yourself, but to protect your friends, neighbours and general communities; in turn, protecting yourself.
Two studies say cloth masks are better than nothing:
Davies et al (2013) in Disaster Medicine & Public Health Preparedness https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24229526. This study was a mechanical test of the best materials for filtering virus sized particles. Cotton and some cotton blends filtered around 50% of the particles. Not as good as surgical masks, but significantly better than nothing. (The authors are getting a lot of questions about this article, so have helpfully posted an FAQ here).
van der Sande et al (2008) in PLoS One https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18612429. This study had very tiny sample sizes, but found that cloth masks filtered virus-sized particles for people wearing them while performing different actions (e.g. nodding, talking etc).
The government will work with operators to make it mandatory for passengers to wear face coverings when using public transport in England, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced today (4 June 2020).
Wherever possible people should continue to avoid public transport and walk, cycle or drive, but for some people this may not be an option. Transport usage has been slowly increasing, including on the tube which has seen around a 20% rise this week compared to last week.
Shops and Enclosed Spaces
Face coverings will be mandatory in additional enclosed public spaces from Friday 24 July – including shops, supermarkets, shopping centres and transport hubs.
New measure an important step in lifting lockdown, as the public are encouraged to play their part.
Venues such as restaurants, pubs and gyms will be exempt.
Face coverings will not be mandatory for:
Anyone under the age of 11
and those with disabilities or certain health conditions, such as respiratory or cognitive impairments that make it difficult for them to wear a face covering.