London: London Mayor Sadiq Khan on Friday called on the UK government to make face masks compulsory as part of measures to tackle the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has kept the British capital along with the rest of the country under lockdown for over three weeks now.
As the lockdown was further extended by another three weeks until May 7, Khan said that worldwide evidence suggests that face masks are effective in curbing the transmission of the virus, with New York among the other capital cities making it mandatory.
Evidence from around the world is showing that face coverings are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19, said Khan.
I’ve lobbied the government for some time now to make the wearing of face coverings obligatory on public transport, he said.
Khan, who belongs to the Opposition Labour Party, stressed that these would not be medical masks, which must be reserved for health and care workers who desperately need them. But said that even scarves or reusable face coverings to reduce the risk of the virus spreading could be deployed.
Governments and mayors around the world are advising people to wear non-medical face coverings in public to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In circumstances where it’s not possible to keep our social distance, I think it’s time we did the same. It is time to act, he said.
His Conservative Party mayoral challenger, Shaun Bailey, accused Khan of not doing enough to supply masks and other personal protective equipment to Transport for London (TfL) staff – which falls under the mayor’s purview – and that should also be a compulsory policy.
“The mayor of London is also the chairman of TfL, and his failure to provide transport workers with PPE is putting lives at risk. Now more than ever, London needs its mayor to take responsibility and to stop blaming the government to score political points during a national crisis,” said Bailey.
The World Health Organization (WHO) guidance notes that medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, not the general public. But WHO special envoy Dr David Nabarro has suggested that more widespread use of masks will become “the norm” as the world adjusts to living with COVID-19.
Under the current social distancing guidelines set out by the UK government, face coverings are not a mandatory requirement because experts fear about the lack of hygiene around reusable masks and also that it would make people less vigilant on other requirements, such as regularly washing hands.
Face masks are believed to be effective in stopping transmission to others by those who may have the virus but it is not known if they can stop people from contracting it.
However, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, said earlier this week that the matter would be kept under review.
We have a review ongoing at the moment on the evidence around masks. If that review concludes that the position should change, we will of course make that recommendation, and if it stays the same we will make that clear as well, he said.
Masks are routinely worn in China, Japan and other countries in the Far East, with Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia among the European countries making them the norm amid the pandemic as well.
The UK government on Thursday announced that its current social distancing measures will remain in place for at least another three weeks until May 7, as the country’s death toll from coronavirus reached 13,729.