SCOTS will not have to wear medical grade face masks anytime soon in the fight against coronavirus, John Swinney has confirmed.
The deputy first minister said the idea, which was being “actively explored” by the Scottish Government last month, had been shelved in light of further research.
It means Scots can continue to wear home-made cloth face coverings in public places, although the situation remains under review in case of new variants.
The Government considered making “single-use filtering face piece” (FFP) surgical masks compulsory in shops and other indoor spaces after Germany mandated their use to tackle more transmissible Covid strains.
Mr Swinney said in late January: “We’ve got to make sure we take the most effective measures to suppress the virus and be advised about the clinical value of particular steps to take. The question about the higher grade face covering is one that is being actively explored within government today.”
But asked for an update at the daily Covid briefing, Mr Swinney said clinical advice had indicated there was “no strong justification” to require them for general use.
He said: “The clinicians have assessed the difference between the nature of face coverings, and the context within which they would be worn, to come to the conclusion that there is not the justification to move in that direction, and that is advice and information the Government would intend to follow.”
Chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith said the European Centre for Disease Control carried out a rapid risk assessment of whether wearing the public medical grade masks would confer an additional benefit.
He said: “Their assessment was that at this moment in time there is insufficient evidence to support that use in that way.
“It’s really important when we are dealing with a virus that is changing, where it’s behaviours change as new variants emerge, that we continue to keep all of these aspects under review.
“But at this point there is certainly no overwhelming evidence at all that would support this type of medical grade face mask in a public setting in this way.”
Earlier in the briefing, Mr Swinney announced there had been 31 Covid-related deaths and 885 new cases of Covid diagnosed in the past 24 hours.
The death toll of people dying within 28 days of a positive test is now 6,916 in Scotland, while the number of positive cases is 195,839.
Covid Scotland – John Swinney gives latest coronavirus figures at daily briefing
However he also highlighted positive figures from the Office for National Statistics showing Scotland has the lowest average prevalence of Covid in the UK, at 1 in 180 people in private households in the week to February 12, down from 150 the previous week.
He said it was a “further indication that lockdown restrictions are having the desired effect”.
Mr Swinney also said that by 830am today, 1,386,152 Scots had received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine – an increase of 31,186 from the previous day.
He said further guidance on vaccine priority groups was expected over the next week.
The UK-wide Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), which prioritises groups for jabs, is due to give ministers more guidance in the coming days.
There are reports it will continue to prioritise groups primarily by age, from oldest to youngest.
Asked if the Scottish Government would follow the new JCVI criteria, Mr Swinney said the advice had not yet been received and noted that Scotland, unlike England and Wales, was not obliged to follow the JCVI advice, although it has done so for decades.
He said: “We expect to receive information on that reasonably soon, I can’t give a prescriptive timetable but I would expect us to get that really within the next week or so.
“And that will then enable us to take decisions based on the advice that we receive.”
Dr Smith said the JCVI had met twice this week and would issue its advice in the “very near future”.
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The JCVI has not yet published details of priority groups beyond the initial nine.
The eighth-highest group is “all those aged 55 and over”, while the ninth is “all those 50 years of age and over”.
Aside from care home workers and frontline health and social care workers, the first nine groups have not reflected professions such as teachers or emergency service workers, and there have been calls for workers in these fields to be prioritised.