Coronavirus: Public in England told to cover face on transport and in shops

Posted: 11 May 2020 5:01 pm
News

Shopping face mask

UK government issues advice to wear a mask when shopping or travelling as lockdown eases.

In a government document setting out a plan for getting the UK out of lockdown, officials are now advising the public in England to wear a face covering like a mask in crowded places, and to wash their clothes regularly.

After prime minister Boris Johnson addressed the nation on Sunday, the government published its 60-page dossier, Our Plan to Rebuild, which details “smarter controls” to limit the spread of COVID-19 as restrictions are eased.

As devolved nations, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland issue their own advice on such restrictions. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the public are already advised to wear masks in enclosed spaces such as shops or public transport.

The new dossier sets out that more outdoor activities will be allowed from Wednesday, such as unlimited exercise and sunbathing, but the public will be expected to take extra caution. In cases where social distancing is not an option, government advice is to cover your face.

People should “wear a face covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops”, the document says.

This is aimed at preventing people who have the virus but are not experiencing symptoms from passing it on to others.

The chief medical officer for England, Professor Chris Whitty, stressed that face coverings were “not a substitute” for physical distancing and urged the public not to buy surgical or medical masks, needed for frontline carers. Instead, he asked the public to rely on scarves or DIY-type masks.

The public should also wash their clothes regularly, the document suggests, “as there is some evidence that the virus can stay on fabrics”.

This is the first time the government has issued advice of this kind. The Scottish government recommended face mask use in April.

As well as the new dossier, the prime minister set out a three-step plan on Sunday evening to manage the pandemic as lockdown restrictions are eased.

The government plan is:

    1. From 13 May, workers who cannot work from home should go to work.
    2. From 1 June, but no earlier, nurseries and primary schools may begin a phased return for reception, and years one and six. Some businesses will be able to reopen and sporting events may take place behind closed doors.
    3. From, or later than, 4 July, more businesses will be able to open – although some, which are crowded by design, will not.

No date is fixed and timing may well be delayed if not enough progress is made in tackling the virus. If that is the case, restrictions could be reintroduced at any point.

The decision to finally recommend face coverings in crowded spaces comes after 100 leading doctors called for the use of face masks in public last month, while London mayor Sadiq Khan lobbied for the compulsory use of non-medical face masks in the capital.

While the government’s message has shifted from “Stay at home” to “Stay alert”, much of the coronavirus advice from Public Health England remains the same.

The guidelines are:

  • Stay at home as much as possible and work from home if you can.
  • Limit contact with other people.
  • Keep your distance and if you go out, keep two metres away from others.
  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Self-isolate if you or anyone in your household has symptoms.

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