Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.
The PM also hinted he will advise people to wear them, as he said they may give people “confidence” to go back to work.
It came as Johnson confirmed the UK was “past the peak” of the outbreak and that he would next week set out a “road map” to ending the lockdown.
Asked about the face coverings at Thursday’s Downing Street briefing on Covid-19, Johnson said: “What I think Sage [the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies] is saying, and what I certainly agree with, is that – as part of coming out of the lockdown – I do think that face coverings will be useful both for epidemiological reasons but also for giving people confidence they can go back to work.”
Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam had previously poured cold water on the notion of people wearing masks, saying there was “no evidence that general wearing of face masks by the public who are well affects the spread of the disease in our society”.
But a growing number of doctors and politicians have said that, while surgical masks should be reserved for frontline NHS staff, other coverings like scarves, bandanas and makeshift masks made from t-shirts could help curb contagion.
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has already recommended the use of face masks north of the border, with a Scottish government document saying coverings had “some benefit” even if that was admittedly “limited”.
London mayor Sadiq Khan, who last week called for new guidance so people in the capital may start wearing face coverings, welcomed the news.
Labour leader Keir Starmer had also previously backed the move.
“I am pleased that the prime minister has said that non-medical face coverings will play an important role as we eventually look to lift lockdown restrictions,” he said. “This is something I and others have been pushing the government to change the guidance on.”
Johnson also said that the number of people who have died in hospitals, care homes and the community after contracting coronavirus had risen by 674 in 24 hours – bringing the working total to 26,711 – and that the government had carried out 81,611 tests yesterday, edging closer to health secretary Matt Hancock’s target of 100,000 daily.