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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wears a mask at a repatriation ceremony for the six Canadian Armed Forces members killed in a helicopter crash off of Greece during Operation Reassurance, at CFB Trenton, Ont., on May 6, 2020.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer says Canadians should wear non-medical masks as an added layer of protection when physical distancing is not possible to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday that a federal, provincial and territorial special advisory committee comprised of chief medical officers from across the country are issuing the recommendation.

The committee posted the advice online Wednesday, explaining that masks can serve as a supplementary measure to existing public health recommendations such physical distancing and regular handwashing.

It also said benefits of wearing commercially available or homemade cloth masks are greatest in public when you may not be able to control contact with others; the benefits are marginal when the risk of viral transmission is lower, such as an in private settings.

The position of chief medical officers from across Canada has been that masks help to protect other people, Dr. Tam said, noting that if you are wearing a mask you are shielding another person against your droplets.

“It is an added layer of protection, even for people who don’t have symptoms, to wear a mask to prevent transmission to others,” she said in Ottawa.

The updated advice around non-medical masks was delivered as economic activity intensifies in several jurisdictions across Canada, along with heightened concern about whether physical distancing will be possible in environments such as retail stores and on public transit.

Now that Ontario is in the first stage of its reopening plan, the province said the chief medical officer of health and other health experts are recommending individuals wear a face covering when physical distancing is not possible.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he will wear a mask to protect himself on Parliament Hill when he cannot maintain a two-metre distance between himself and colleagues.

“In situations where I’m either walking through the halls of Parliament or going to my office and coming in proximity to people, I’ve chosen to start wearing a mask,” he said.

“I will be wearing a mask as I go into Parliament this afternoon for our in-person sitting.”

Once he is at his desk and two metres from others he will take it off to engage in parliamentary discourse, the Prime Minister said. He plans to put it back on when he leaves his seat and walks through busier hallways.

“I think we all need to adjust to what works in our circumstances.”

Everyone’s situation will be different, Mr. Trudeau added, saying Canadians need to pay attention to public health authorities.

“The reality is the best thing to do is to remain socially distanced. But in situations where you cannot physically distance to two metres, people are encouraged to wear masks."​

A spokeswoman for Jagmeet Singh confirmed Wednesday that the federal NDP leader also intends to wear a non-medical mask.

Mélanie Richer said Mr. Singh will be wearing one as of Thursday in situations where physical distancing is not possible, adding he has followed the advice of public health experts since the beginning of the crisis.

A spokeswoman for Andrew Scheer said a number of Conservative MPs have made the personal decision to wear masks and the federal party leader will do so if regular in-person sittings resume in the House of Commons.

“We will continue to follow all public health advice,” said Kelsie Chiasson, acting director of communications for Mr. Scheer.

Conservative Ontario MP Scott Reid told The Globe on Wednesday he is a big advocate of wearing a mask in the House of Commons and elsewhere.

Other regions that embraced mask-wearing were ahead of Canada, Mr. Reid said, pointing to examples such as Hong Kong and Macau, where he said early and consistent use was key to success in controlling COVID-19.

“Everyone who did it before us was right to do it when they did it."

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