HOSPITAL visitors will be required to wear face coverings, the Government has announced.

The plans, which will launch on Monday, June 15, will also see all hospital staff made to wear surgical masks in an effort to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

Announcing the new face covering policy for hospitals, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government wanted to ensure that "even as the virus comes under control" hospitals are a place of "care and of safety".

He said: "As the NHS reopens right across the country, it's critically important to stop the spread amongst staff, patients and visitors too.

"One of the things that we've learnt is that those in hospital, those who are working in hospital, are more likely to catch coronavirus whether they work in a clinical setting or not.

"And so to offer even greater protection we're also providing new guidance for NHS staff in England which will come into force again on June 15 and all hospital staff will be required to wear type one or two surgical masks.

"And this will cover all staff working in hospital, it will apply at all times - not just when they are doing life-saving work on the frontline - and it will apply in all areas, except those areas designated as Covid-secure workplaces."

Mr Hancock told the daily Downing Street briefing that new figures on the R confirm "there is a challenge in the North West of England to address and, to a lesser degree, in the South West of England."

He said the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (Sage) believes the R is below one across the UK but the Government wants to "increasingly have an approach in tackling local lockdowns where we spot a flare-up."

Earlier, Sage acknowledged there might be some places in England where the R - which is the number of people an infected person passes the virus onto - is close to one, which if exceeded could see the virus spread exponentially.

But the Government's value remained between 0.7 and 0.9 for the UK as a whole, though the figure has a two to three week lag, meaning it does not account for the latest easing of the lockdown.

A separate report from Public Health England and Cambridge University, which estimates what the value is currently, put the North West on 1.01 and the South West on 1.00.

The figure was lowest in the Midlands at 0.9 and stood at 0.95 in London.

PHE medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said: "Our estimates show that the regional R numbers have increased although they remain below one for most of England - this is to be expected as we gradually move out of lockdown.

"It is vital that everyone continues with social distancing, practising good hand hygiene and must remain at home and order a test if they have symptoms."

PHE estimated there are 17,000 new infections each day in England, with a range being at between 11,000 and 25,000.

But Office for National Statistics data put the new cases at 5,600 daily, down from around 8,000 a week ago.

The PHE research warned that there is some evidence the value has risen in all regions, saying it was probably due to increasing mobility and mixing between households and in public and work settings.