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11th August 2020

Science Coronavirus: Face masks ‘should be compulsory in shops’

Science Coronavirus: Face masks ‘should be compulsory in shops’

Science

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The rules on face masks vary around the UK

The Welsh Government needs to “go further and faster” on face coverings and make them mandatory in shops, Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has said.

Mr Price told BBC Radio Wales “there is no reason for any further delay” and said they should be freely available.

But Wales’ chief medical officer said “very little had changed” in the science, which pointed to them having little benefit.

Face coverings will be mandatory on public transport in Wales from 27 July.

They are currently required on public transport in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, while wearing a face covering in shops and supermarkets in England is to become mandatory from 24 July.

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Adam Price called for more urgency from the Welsh Government

Mr Price called for more urgency from the Welsh Government, adding that the scientific evidence had changed in terms of the “airborne nature” of the virus.

“I think sometimes, slow can be good – in terms of the slow, cautious approach to easing restrictions, I think the Welsh Government has got it right,” Mr Price told BBC Radio Wales’ Claire Summers programme.

“But slow sometimes can be our enemy – if we need to move with agility, if we need to move fast.

“If the science changes as it has done around face coverings, then we need the Welsh Government to move fast.”

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Welsh Government

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Chief medical officer Frank Atherton said the evidence on face masks was “quite weak”

Also speaking to Claire Summers on Tuesday, Wales’ chief medical officer Dr Frank Atherton said the evidence for making face coverings mandatory was “quite weak”, although there might be a “small benefit”.

Whether they would be introduced, Dr Atherton said “never say never” but believed they were inappropriate and social distancing and personal hygiene, like hand-washing, were more important.

Asked on Monday why coverings were not mandatory in other public spaces, First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The advice of the Welsh Government is that if places are crowded then face coverings are advisory. Where places are not crowded it is a matter for the individual citizen to make that decision.”

Coronavirus is now “at its lowest ebb” since the pandemic began, he added, saying the Welsh Government’s response had to be “proportionate”.

While Mr Drakeford said masks would not be mandatory for shoppers, businesses may ask people to wear them.

Science ‘Common sense’

Later, he said Wales had taken longer than other governments in the UK to make the wearing of face coverings compulsory because it was “an intrusion on people’s civil liberties”.

He told Times Radio: “It’s not straightforward because there are people who cannot wear them – people with breathing difficulties, people who rely on lip reading, children – and you don’t do it, I think, without being very certain that it will make a material difference.”

The Welsh Conservatives have also been calling for the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops, saying it was a key element of its 10-point plan published last week.

BMA Cymru Wales council chairman Dr David Bailey said on Monday: “We also continue our calls for face coverings to be worn by the public in all areas where they cannot socially distance, not just on public transport, and for the continued practice of good hand hygiene.”

Prof Sian Griffiths, co-chairwoman of the SARS expert committee in Hong Kong, said it was “common sense” to wear face masks.

“In a way, it’s great that the various governments are setting timelines and instituting more mandatory regulations, but at the same time we ourselves could take action and could be wearing face coverings at the current time, because we know they contribute towards cutting the spread of the disease,” she said.

“Given that up to 30% of cases of coronavirus are asymptomatic but infectious at that time, it just makes common sense to protect other people from possibly passing disease onto them.”

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