Worries people will act in 'cavalier' way if told to wear face masks to stop coronavirus spread

29 April 2020, 19:37

People may act in a "cavalier" way if they are told to wear face masks, Gove has warned
People may act in a "cavalier" way if they are told to wear face masks, Gove has warned. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

There are concerns the population will act in a "cavalier" way if told to wear masks to halt the spread of coronavirus, Michael Gove has said.

Mr Gove told the Commons' public administration and constitutional affairs committee: "The scientific evidence so far says face coverings can have an effect in preventing an individual from spreading the disease to others if they have it and are asymptomatic.

"But there is also a worry that some people may think that wearing a mask protects themselves, as distinct to protecting others, and therefore they may behave in a manner that is slightly more cavalier.

He confirmed the Cabinet was continuing to keep the current advice "under review".

It comes after Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recommended people wear face coverings in places where staying two metres apart from others was difficult, such as when using public transport and visiting shops.

Mr Gove was speaking to the Commons' public administration and constitutional affairs committee:
Mr Gove was speaking to the Commons' public administration and constitutional affairs committee:. Picture: PA

But the rest of the UK is continuing to follow advice that covering their face is not required, with chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance previously declaring that the evidence relating to masks helping prevent transmission was "quite weak".

Mr Gove revealed that members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had received threats.

Sage has been the subject of controversy after it emerged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's key adviser Dominic Cummings had been involved in meetings of the expert group.

Asked about the membership of Sage, Mr Gove said: "There are some people who have identified themselves as members of the committee.

"There are other people who are on the committee who have the right to anonymity.

"One of the reasons for that is that there have been, unfortunately, one or two threats issued to members of the committee."

Nicola Sturgeon has already recommended for people to cover their faces in public
Nicola Sturgeon has already recommended for people to cover their faces in public. Picture: PA

Mr Gove also told MPs he read a report into Exercise Cygnus, a 2016 simulation on how the NHS would cope with a pandemic flu outbreak, last week.

But added: "Some of the product that flowed from that report I had read before hand."

Mr Gove said so-called "herd immunity" against coronavirus was never official policy.

He said: "It is a term that epidemiologists and others use to describe a particular stage in the development of a disease, if a particular set of principles are followed.

"But, it's not Government policy."

Mr Gove, appearing via webcam, told the committee on Wednesday that some "island communities" could be used to pilot easing measures for scaling back the lockdown.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made the comments in reference to how the devolved administrations might take a different approach to dealing with the coronavirus crisis.

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He said: "My own personal view is that it is preferable if we do it (lift the lockdown) as one United Kingdom.

"But there is a specific scientific justification for saying that island communities can be areas where you could pilot some measures, contact tracing in particular, in order to combine that with relaxing measures at a progressively greater rate.

"That can help you judge what is right for the country overall."

The former justice secretary confirmed to MPs that ministers had access to data on how well the public was abiding by the strict social distancing rules imposed last month, but said the information could not be published due to confidentiality issues.

"Some of the social distancing compliance measures are not shared because the means by which we gather that information involves some quite sensitive relationships," he added.

Mr Gove acknowledged there was a balance to be struck between reassuring people that "lots of work is going on and not sending the wrong sorts of signals" about easing the lockdown.

He also suggested there could be a "differentiated approach", with outdoor workers allowed to go back to work sooner because the disease spreads more easily indoors, something which could impact on construction or garden centre businesses.

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