COVID-19: Indian-origin doctors’ union chief wants public face coverings for all in UK

Aditi Khanna

London, Jun 5 (PTI) A leading doctors’ union in the UK has demanded that mandatory face covering requirements should be expanded as an immediate anti-coronavirus measure for all public places, after the British government announced that they would be a compulsory condition of travel on public transport from June 15.

The Indian-origin chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said the organisation has been advocating face coverings to be used in public for several weeks as it helps reduce the spread of the deadly virus.

The UK government has so far refrained from making it compulsory until Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed on Thursday that a form of non-surgical face masks, including home-made face coverings, would become mandatory as the government eased the country's lockdown further from mid-June.

“This will mean you can be refused travel if you don’t comply and could be fined,” the minister said at the daily Downing Street briefing.

The BMA welcomed the announcement because it believes that not only will this afford greater protection to the public but also protect the lives of the staff working on public transport. However, it stressed that the measures do not go far enough for public safety against the risk of Covid-19, which has claimed nearly 40,000 lives in the UK.

“These important measures should not be restricted to public transport but to all areas where social distancing is not always possible – the risk will be much less if the public adopts this now – not mid-June,” said Nagpaul.

“The BMA believes that the government should 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,' he said.

'It is vital that these face coverings are not the same as the medical-grade masks that have been in short supply and must be reserved for frontline staff whose job is dependent upon having them for adequate protection,” he added.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has been lobbying the government for mandatory face coverings for some time, agreed with their wider use in public places where effective social distancing was not feasible.

“I encourage anyone travelling on public transport, or anywhere you can’t keep a safe two-metre distance, to wear a face covering, but from Monday 15 June, everyone must wear a covering over their nose and mouth for the entirety of any journeys made using the public transport network. This will be mandatory and will help everyone be safer,” he said.

In reference to enforcing the new rules, the mayor said there would be an 'element of discretion and good faith' but he said he was confident most people would follow the rules voluntarily.

The current coronavirus lockdown guidance continues to advise against non-essential travel but as those conditions are gradually lifted, non-surgical face coverings must be worn on buses, trams, trains, coaches, aircraft and ferries across England and Wales. Very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties will be in the category that is exempt. The devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales are also likely to follow similar steps.

“Wearing face coverings on trains will help to ensure that those who need to travel by rail can do so with confidence. Greater use of face coverings will boost the other measures we are putting in place to keep people safe, like more thorough cleaning, improved information on potential crowding and one-way systems at busier stations,” said Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group.

The government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has set out that using face coverings in transport settings can help people to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus if they are suffering from coronavirus, but not showing symptoms. It reiterates that social distancing and regular hand washing are still the most important measures to prevent the deadly virus spreading. PTI AK NSA