Face masks: Should they be compulsory in more places?

World Health Organisation guidelines on wearing facemasks during the coronavirus pandemic have been updated.

They advise that everyone living in an area where Covid-19 is being transmitted should wear a facemask when out in public spaces where social distancing is difficult or impossible. 

The WHO’s previous recommendation was that only healthcare workers, those who have the virus and their caregivers should be wearing masks, those guidelines have now changed.

Changes are coming to the facemask rules, with people wanting to use public transport in England soon to be required to wear one before being allowed on buses, trains and trams.

However, the rules which are in place might need updating across the board due to the changing situation and revised WHO advice. Places other than public transport might need people to wear masks in order to keep the spread of the virus down.

Should wearing face masks be made compulsory in more places across the UK?

The Claim

There is pressure on Westminster now that official government advice on wearing facemasks appears to be lagging behind WHO guidelines, both in terms of places masks should be worn and the quality of the garment.

The government had suggested people could make their own masks out of old clothes but the WHO recommends people wear proper three layer masks instead of the makeshift garments Westminster has said will do a job. 

Doctors across the UK have urged the government to follow WHO guidelines and make it compulsory for people to wear facemasks in places they will find it tough to follow social distancing rules of staying two metres apart at all times.

The British Medical Association said compulsory mask wearing shouldn’t be restricted solely to public transport and suggested the risk the virus posed could be significantly reduced the sooner tougher rules on wearing masks were introduced.

As supermarkets continue to sell essential goods and more shops are due to open there will be plenty of indoor locations where social distancing is difficult to maintain. Even with supermarkets enforcing customer limits it’s difficult to keep two metres away from fellow shoppers at all times.

The public are already advised to wear face coverings in places they think it will be difficult to maintain social distancing, it might help if they were more explicitly told they will need to do so.

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The Counter Claim

However, the BMA have also said it is “too little, too late” to tighten up rules on wearing facemasks in public. It will help if more people wear masks but much of the damage has already been done due to delays in getting people to wear them.

Doctors have questioned why it took over two months for ministers to take the step of making wearing masks compulsory on public transport, especially after they had already told people to try and go back to work.

If it’s too dangerous to take the bus or go on a train without a mask from June 15 then it’s too dangerous now despite it not yet being compulsory

There have also been concerns that making wearing a mask compulsory on a much wider scale will lead to problems as a lack of supply means people can’t travel to work or shop for essentials because they lack the required protection.

Demand for facemasks is already high, if they are compulsory in more situations then it could lead to shortages. It could lead to a situation where people struggle to stock up on essentials or travel to work until they can acquire a mask.

Making the wearing of face masks compulsory in more situations should help protect people from the coronavirus but availability of masks and the months of delay pose complications.

The Facts

From June 15 onwards it will be compulsory to wear a face covering on public transport in England

People could be prevented from boarding buses and trains if their faces are not covered, while they could be fined if caught on public transport without an appropriate covering.

From that date all hospital staff, not just those who are treating patients, will have to wear surgical grade masks, while all hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings. 

Very young children and people with disabilities or respiratory problems will be exempt from having to wear a face covering.

A face covering will not do much to protect you from catching the coronavirus off other people, but it can make a real difference in preventing people who have the virus from transmitting it to others. 

Many cases of the coronavirus are asymptomatic, meaning a person with the virus doesn’t have symptoms which clearly indicate the illness. They can still spread the virus to other people even if they are not showing symptoms themselves. 

The best way to avoid spreading coronavirus is for people to err on the side of caution and act as though they already have it. 

Although useful in dealing with the spread of Covid-19, regular washing of hands and staying at least two metres away from other people is far more likely to keep you safe. Wearing a face covering is no reason to stop following social distancing guidelines.

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