Ministers are not considering making masks compulsory in England’s workplaces, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said, while over in France the Government has made the opposite decision.
French officials are planning to make wearing face coverings compulsory in most work environments as the country faces a rise in cases.
Face coverings are required in many indoor settings in England, but are not currently required for “employees of indoor settings”.
Asked about the move in France, Mr Hancock told BBC News: “We constantly look at the scientific advice and the answer here is we’re not currently considering doing that.
“The reason is the evidence from NHS Test and Trace for where people catch the disease is that very largely they catch it from one household meeting another household, usually in one of their homes.
“So it is that household transmission that is the core root of passing on this virus in this country. The amount of people who have caught it in workplaces is relatively low, from the evidence we’ve got.”
Officials have introduced a number of guidelines to help workplaces become Covid-secure.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, said: “Everyone in my NHS trust is wearing masks at work, including when in office areas, and I’m strongly encouraging my team members to do likewise in my lab.
“Most people seem happy enough to do so once they understand the thinking behind it – namely, that everyone is doing it to protect everyone else.
“The Government may have evidence and other reasons for not wishing to compel people to do this, but I think people should at least be encouraged to don a mask whenever they are sharing space with others.”
Keith Neal, emeritus professor of the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, added: “Office working has an inherent basis of social distancing built in. Most workplace outbreaks have been in factories producing food where temperatures are usually kept low.
“There has been little published work from the UK identifying where people have caught infections. We do know that transmission occurs in hospitals, in care homes, households and families mixing in households along with overcrowded pubs as in Aberdeen. The risk in offices must exist but so far not been measured and can reasonably thought to be low.
On travelling to work, Mr Neal added: “Although masks are required on public transport, I have seen reports it is not being rigorously enforced. For those many more areas of the country where public transport is not an option, this will require car use.
“Car sharing has been suggested as a risk factor, but this would not generate many cases and these reports have also involved a shared place of work.
“Working from home minimises your and your family’s risk from Covid-19 and flu. Working from home will keep down the overall number of transmissions in the whole country.
“If you can work from home without any detriment then it is reasonable to carry on doing this, but if you have to go to the office the risk is minimal and can be managed to be even lower.”