BMA urges government to make face covering mandatory in all public places


Dr Chaand Nagpaul
Dr Chaand Nagpaul

THE British Medical Association has urged the government to make face covering mandatory in “all areas” where social distancing was not always possible.

The demand came as the government announced that all people should cover their faces using non-surgical face masks while using public transport from June 15.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul welcomed the move, but insisted that such “important measures should not be restricted to public transport but to all areas where social distancing is not always possible”.

“The risk will be much less if the public adopts this now – not mid-June,” he said.

“The BMA believes that the government should ensure a supply of face coverings for the public, similar to practices in other nations, as there will be circumstances where many individuals may not have the capacity to make them or may be unable to procure them when needed.”

Nagpaul added that it was “vital that these face coverings are not the same as the medical-grade masks that have been in short supply and must be reserved for frontline staff”.

Notably, the World Health Organization has updated its guidance to recommend that governments ask everyone to wear fabric face masks in public areas.

In its new guidance, prompted by evidence from studies conducted in recent weeks, the WHO stressed that face masks were only one of a range of tools that can reduce the risk of viral transmission, and should not give a false sense of protection.

“We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask. And we specify a fabric mask — that is, a non-medical mask,” the WHO’s technical lead expert on Covid-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, told Reuters news agency.

“We have new research findings,” she added. “We have evidence now that if this is done properly it can provide a barrier… for potentially infectious droplets.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who had been lobbying the government for mandatory face coverings for several weeks, also called for their wider use in public places.

“I encourage anyone travelling on public transport, or anywhere you can’t keep a safe two-metre distance, to wear a face covering, but from Monday 15 June, everyone must wear a covering over their nose and mouth for the entirety of any journeys made using the public transport network,” said Khan.

“This will be mandatory and will help everyone be safer”

The mayor said there would be an “element of discretion and good faith” while enforcing the new rules, adding that he was confident most people would follow the rules voluntarily.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies had set out that using face coverings in transport settings could help people to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus if they are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms.

It, however, reiterated that social distancing and regular hand washing were still the most important measures to prevent the deadly virus spreading.