Drawn up on January 13 and endorsed by Sage the next day, it says face coverings should also be considered in corridors and communal areas of workplaces to prevent the spread of the Kent variant, which may be up to 70 per cent more infectious.
It also says workplaces that cannot fully enforce social distancing should consider other strategies to protect workers, such as “bubbling” groups together, offering regular testing and providing more support to workers to ensure they isolate.
It adds that the benefit of face coverings in blocking transmission is difficult to quantify, with estimates ranging from seven to 45 per cent. Studies have found it difficult to distinguish between the effect of face coverings compared to other interventions used at the same time, such as the introduction of social distancing measures.
Current guidance does not say people need to wear face coverings outdoors.
Earlier this month, Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, said people should think about wearing face coverings in situations where they had to huddle together even if outdoors.
“If people, for example, are crowded together in a queue outdoors, if they’re really huddled together round a market stall or something, that is a risk with this virus and in that situation there might be some logic to people thinking about wearing masks,” he said.
“I think that the much more important thing is that people should not be leaving their home unless they absolutely have to,” he said. “And where they do, try and keep their distance from people.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “s infections and hospitalisations remain high, it is absolutely paramount that everyone stays at home and follows the rules to stop the virus spreading further, protect the NHS and save lives.”