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Should we be wearing masks?

Wearing a mask – the latest information

There has been much talk in recent weeks about the wearing of face masks in public. Many healthcare professionals, including our own Tony Holohan, have been advising it for some time, suggesting that everyone should be wearing a face covering on public transport and in indoor spaces, such as supermarkets.

As the country and the rest of Europe slowly starts to re-open, we wanted to find out what the experts are saying:

Last month, the Government advised that face masks or coverings should be worn in situations where social distancing might be difficult, but Minister for Health Simon Harris has gone one step further this week, saying that there is “room for improvement” around the subject of wearing of face coverings. He has appealed for people to start wearing face masks, saying that the public health advice is very clear on the issue.

The general advice in Ireland seems to be quite clear then, that some form of barrier masks should be worn by everyone, although people are also advised that they need not look for surgical grade masks, leaving these in constant supply for our healthcare workers.

In the UK, from the 15th of June, bus and train commuters in England could be refused travel if they fail to comply with the measures – or face a fine. We have seen reports in the media this week of a gentleman being refused entry on a Ryanair flight from Dublin to Stansted because he was not wearing a mask. We expect that if and when air travel does resume, the wearing of masks will be compulsory on board, on all airlines.

British Medical Association council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul also questioned why the introduction of these measures has been delayed – adding that the risk posed by coronavirus would be “much less” if the public starts wearing face coverings immediately.

He said: “The BMA recently advocated the wearing of face coverings by the public several weeks ago in areas where they cannot socially distance and believes it is right that people should be required to wear face coverings on public” Dr Nagpaul has also called for the government to provide a supply of face coverings to the public, and offer advice on how they can be used correctly.

BMA Wales council chair Dr David Bailey also pressed the Welsh government to change their position on face coverings to make them mandatory.

The Welsh government has said the use of face coverings is “a matter of personal choice” for the public.

Face coverings can include scarves, a piece of cloth or a mask – and certain travellers, such as young children and people with disabilities or breathing difficulties, will be exempt.

At the moment, passengers are advised to wear a face covering but are not prevented from boarding transport without one.

Announcing the plans, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said “we need to ensure every precaution is taken” as England relaxes the lockdown further, and passenger numbers start to increase once again.

The government says face coverings are “marginally beneficial as a precautionary measure”.

Image via Pexels & Anna Shvets