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Boris Johnson urges Brits to cover their noses when wearing face masks amid warning UK ‘way behind’ other countries

Number 10 said it had been ‘very clear about the benefits of people wearing face coverings’

3 min read

Boris Johnson has urged the British public to shield their noses when wearing face masks, amid a warning from scientists that the UK is “way behind” other nations in covering up.

Downing Street said people must cover both their nose and mouth “to protect others”, as the president of the Royal Society said refusing to wear a mask should become socially unacceptable.

The Government’s current advice on mask-wearing says the public must don a face covering “at all times on public transport or when attending a hospital as a visitor or outpatient”.

If possible, Brits are also advised to “wear a face covering in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet”.

But Number 10 is concerned that some people are choosing to leave their noses exposed while using public transport — potentially putting others at risk of infection. 

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said on Tuesday: “Covid 19 is a respiratory disease. If someone has the virus, droplets can leave the nose and month and infect others when someone breathes, speaks, sneezes, laughs or coughs. 

“Therefore, a face covering should cover both the nose and mouth to reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets, helping to protect others.”

The plea from Number 10 came as the president of the Royal Society, an independent British scientific academy, said everyone in the country should use a face covering and should not leave home without one.

Venki Ramakrishnan said: “The UK is way behind many countries in terms of wearing masks and clear policies and guidelines about mask wearing for the public. 

“The public have taken to handwashing and distancing but remain sceptical about face coverings.  

“You only need to go on public transport, where they are supposed to be mandatory, to see how many people are ignoring this new rule based on the growing body of evidence that wearing a mask will help protect others – and might even protect you.

“People may rightly ask why you have to wear a mask on a train but not in a shop. If guidance is inconsistent people will follow their own preferences.”

Mr Ramakrishnan urged the public to “overcome our reservations” and wear face coverings — and pointed to a shift in attitudes on drink driving and seatbelt-wearing in recent decades to show how social pressure could work to improve public health.


The call came as the Royal Society on Tuesday published research reports questioning the UK Government's messaging on the issue.

According to one of two studies carried out by the group, uptake of face coverings in the UK by late-April was around 25%, compared to 83.4% in Italy, 65.8% in the United States and 63.8% in Spain.

Melinda Mills, lead author on the report, said: "What is clear is that it isn’t the public’s fault for not wearing masks in the UK. Rather, consistent policies and effective public messaging is vital, which have even differed across England, Scotland and Wales.

"We have seen that people in countries like Italy, the US and Spain, without a previous history of mask wearing, have rapidly adopted face coverings during the COVID-19 period largely because the authorities provided them with a consistent policy and clear guidelines to understand why they should wear them.”

Responding to the report on Tuesday, Number 10 said: "It is something which we always keep under review.

"I think we have been very clear about the benefits of people wearing face coverings.”

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