Posted: Fri 5th Jun 2020

Wales “not going to just rush into an immediate decision” on face coverings after English policy change for people living in or visiting the wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Friday, Jun 5th, 2020

Doctors’ leaders are calling on Welsh Government to change their position on face coverings, saying that they should be worn in areas where people cannot socially distance.

The call comes after the UK Government said all people traveling on public transport in England should wear a face covering from June 15.

Last month Wales’ Chief Medical Officer said the wearing of face coverings should be a “personal choice” and not mandatory.

BMA Cymru Wales council chair, Dr David Bailey said today: “BMA Cymru Wales advocates the wearing of face coverings by the public in areas where they cannot socially distance.

“There still remains a considerable risk of infection, and emerging evidence has shown that if mouths and noses are covered when people are in areas where they cannot socially distance, it may help in in controlling the spread of infection of COVID-19 and therefore save lives.

“BMA Cymru Wales is calling on Welsh Government to change their position immediately, to lessen the risk of the public spreading the virus.

“Further, we are calling on Welsh Government to 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.

“It is sensible that these face coverings are not the same as the medical-grade masks which must be reserved for frontline staff whose job is dependent upon having them for adequate protection.

“The public must be informed and educated on how and when to use face coverings properly and it must be made clear to the public that this does not reduce the need and importance of continued adherence to social distancing and proper hand hygiene.”

However speaking at today’s Welsh Government daily briefing the First Minister responded to a question on the topic from the BBC saying, “The context for face coverings has changed because of an announcement made yesterday in England about mandatory use of face masks on public transport.

“That will not come in until the 15th of June. That gives us a short number of days in order to consider the position here in Wales recognising that changed context.

“I’ve met today with the health minister and with the chief medical officer to consider this matter. There are a whole series of detailed questions which we need to explore with our colleagues in England if this is to be mandatory.

“What will be the position of people who have asthmatic conditions? If people are making long journeys by train from Edinburgh to Cardiff, for example, what happens to people who need to eat a sandwich and have a drink? What will be the case with the deaf community who’ve been in contact with us expressing their concerns because they rely on lip reading as the way in which they understand the world around them?

“We’re not going to just rush into an immediate decision because we don’t need to. We will continue conversations over the weekend we will make a definitive statement in the first part of next week recognising the changed context in which advice now has to be given.”

Later the First Minister added, “The context changes because if in England it is mandatory to use face masks while on public transport, trains and roads between North and South Wales weave in and out of the board all the time. In a sheer practical sense, we have to think through whether having separate regimes is a possibility, when you can be in a train that start in Wales, goes into England comes back into work goes back into England comes back into Wales. Is it in a practical sense possible to have different regimes?”

We pointed out to the First Minister that use of public face masks to help combat SARS or MERS, and now Covid-19 is not new and that the range of questions and scenarios given were not new either. We asked if it was best to bring in such measures sooner and roll back if required, rather than wait for an arbitrary time period from England in ten days time.

The First Minister replied, “I think those are in many ways answers more for the UK Government than for me, because they have decided to introduce it on the 15th of June. So they could probably better explain to you why they have chosen that date.

“I wish that we’d had a chance to explore this with the UK Government before they made the announcement, that would have allowed us to have some answers to the questions that I’ve raised today, before the event rather than after the event. But while on the bulk of issues, we continue to be able to have discussion and cooperation in advance of decision making in a small number of cases, we hear about it only after the decision has been made.

“We had no advance notice from the Department of Transport in England, that this announcement was to be made. We’re going to have to use the time we now have to find out from them the extent to which they have got answers to these questions, in advance of making the decision, or whether it’s a matter of making the headline, and then worrying about the detail afterwards.”

Top pic: Some official guidance from England on how to fashion a ‘face covering’.

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