Coronavirus: Masks should be mandatory in offices and outdoors, say doctors

British Medical Association calls on government to ‘regain public trust and confidence’ as infections rise

Peter Stubley
Saturday 10 October 2020 18:38
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Masks should be mandatory in offices and outdoors when two-metre social distancing is not possible, doctors have said.

The British Medical Association also called for medical-grade masks to be provided to vulnerable groups and those over 60.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s council, argued the stronger measures were needed to halt the spread of Covid-19.

He also claimed that inconsistency in the government’s instructions on masks and socialising had played a part in the resurgence of the virus.  

“The infection has risen following rapid relaxation of measures and with the Westminster government letting down its guard – as recently as August, the government was encouraging people to travel, go to work and mix in restaurants and pubs,” he said.

“The government has a duty to regain the public’s confidence and faith in measures being taken to get the spread of the virus back under control. It must also provide the financial support businesses need to enable them to make premises and settings Covid secure while providing clear rules on what ‘Covid secure’ means.

“With admissions to hospitals for Covid climbing rapidly in parts of England, there is an opportunity for the Westminster government to bring in simple, stronger restrictions.”

The BMA has published a list of recommendations it says could reduce the spread of the virus while boosting public confidence and the economy. They are:

  • Making face masks mandatory in all outdoor settings where two-metre distancing is not possible.
  • Making face masks mandatory in all working environments unless working alone.
  • Free masks to be provided to those exempt from prescription charges, and at the entrance of all public settings to anyone who does not have a face covering.
  • Providing medical grade masks, free of charge, to those who are over 60 or in a vulnerable group, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
  • Modify the “rule of six” so that only two households can meet, up to a maximum of six people.
  • Providing financial support to businesses, retail and hospitality settings to enable them to make premises Covid secure and provide clear rules on what ‘Covid secure’ means.
  • Adding more functionality to the NHS Test and Trace app to give people more detailed information on infection rates in their area including actual figures of rates of infection and trends.

Dr Nagpaul said the recommendations could have a positive effect on the spread of coronavirus “if introduced very quickly”.

He added: “We know that with the right public behaviour and renewed public confidence, the infection can be brought under control, given that we had less than 500 new cases a day in mid-July.

“We are having to swallow a very bitter pill of the infection continuing to spread at a perilous rate.

“Stronger measures brought in now could be a far sweeter pill in the long run for far more people.”

Responding to the accusation of inconsistency, the Department of Health and Social Care said the government had been guided by the advice of experts “at every stage” of the pandemic.

“We have been clear from the outset that public compliance with self-isolation rules and social distancing measures is absolutely crucial to preventing the spread of the virus.

“We have introduced financial support to help people self-isolate and simplified social distancing rules, through the rule of six and our ‘Hands. Face. Space’ campaign ... our response ensured the NHS was not overwhelmed even at the virus’s peak, so that everyone was always able to get the best possible care.”

Additional reporting by PA

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