Nicola Sturgeon has advised people in Scotland to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces such as on public transport and in shops to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Wearing cloth coverings such as scarves will not be mandatory but the move could help to prevent transmission of the virus, official Scottish government guidance said.

The document stressed that surgical masks should be reserved for NHS staff and other key health workers amid pressure on stocks – but said the public could benefit from covering their faces with cloth or other textiles.

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The move marks a rift in the UK-wide approach, as Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said that no announcement on public use of face masks was expected from Westminster on Tuesday.

The wearing of face masks has already been made compulsory in Germany, while Americans are advised to wear coverings in supermarkets and pharmacies.

Speaking at a press conference in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said the public must continue to comply with existing restrictions, including staying at home, social distancing and hygiene rules.

The first minister said: “Face coverings are not, I repeat, not a substitute for any of that.

“The guidance also makes clear that the evidence on the use of face coverings is still limited. However it recognises that there may be some benefit in wearing a face covering if you leave the house and enter an enclosed space where you will come into contact with multiple people and social distancing is difficult, for example on public transport or in shops.”

Face coverings may reduce transmission from people who are not displaying symptoms and are unaware they need to self isolate, she said.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish government was recommending the use of face coverings as a “precautionary measure” in limited circumstances but it will not be mandatory as the evidence is “relatively weak”.

Children under two-years-old and people with medical conditions such as asthma are not advised to wear coverings.

The move will ramp up pressure on the UK government to make a decision on face coverings, as ministers grapple with how to begin easing strict lockdown measures without triggering a fresh wave of coronavirus cases.

Senior ministers have been considering advice from the government’s scientific advisers [Sage] on wearing of masks since last week.

Later on Tuesday, Professor Angela McLean, the deputy chief scientific adviser, said Sage had recommended that there is "weak evidence of a small effect" that wearing a face mask can prevent an infected person spreading the disease.

She told the daily Downing Street press conference: "The answer is clear that the evidence is weak and the effect is small, and we have passed that on to our colleagues in government with which to make a decision."

Health secretary Matt Hancock said the UK government position had not changed on face masks, and said there is "weak science" on their use.

Ms Sturgeon’s openness about how Scotland might ease the lockdown comes in contrast with the approach in Westminster, where the government has been tight-lipped about its plans amid fears that disclosing the exit strategy could undermine its guidance to the public to stay at home.

The Welsh Government also announced an extension to the lockdown ahead of other nations.

Asked if it was helpful for devolved administrations to make such announcements separately, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “There have been points in the response so far where announcements have been made at ever so slightly different times, but by and large we have moved forward with a single four-nations approach.

“I think the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all said that they hope that continues to be the case and we would agree with that. We continue to work closely with them.”

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