England and Scotland made mask wearing mandatory on public transportation last month, but the British government has so far resisted calls to make masks mandatory in public settings like shops, pubs or restaurants.
A leading scientist, Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, said Tuesday that the country was behind “in terms of wearing masks and clear policies and guidelines about mask wearing for the public” and that the public remains skeptical about masks.
“There are no silver bullets but alongside hand washing and physical distancing, we also need everyone to start wearing face coverings, particularly indoors in enclosed public spaces where physical distancing is often not possible,” he added in a statement.
The World Health Organization has said that the use of masks is one of the measures that can limit the spread of respiratory diseases, including the coronavirus, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended the use of face coverings in public.
When the pandemic started, Britain urged the public to save masks for the front-line workers who needed them most, while government officials argued that there was little evidence that masks could prevent transmission while worn by the general public.
But earlier this month, Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said on Twitter that “face coverings should be compulsory in all public and enclosed spaces” to reduce the spread of the virus, a point he reiterated on Wednesday.
Reporting was contributed by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Peter Baker, Brooks Barnes, Kate Conger, Michael Cooper, Peter S. Goodman, Erica L. Green, Anemona Hartocollis, Jack Healy, Mike Ives, Sapna Maheshwari, Iliana Magra, Tiffany May, Claire Moses, Andy Parsons, Adam Rasgon, Natasha Singer, Mitch Smith, Megan Specia and Lucy Tompkins.