Labour backs calls for public to wear facial protection on Tube

22 April 2020, 14:21

File photo: Passengers wear face masks on the London Underground
File photo: Passengers wear face masks on the London Underground. Picture: PA

By Megan White

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has given support to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in calls for facial protection to be worn on public transport and where social distancing isn't possible.

Amid a growing row, Sir Keir expressed his support for the capital’s leader on Wednesday, urging the public to cover their mouths on the tube and in other places where social distancing is difficult amid the coronavirus outbreak.

A spokesman for Sir Keir confirmed he supported the wearing of masks as long as scientific and medical advice recommends it.

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The Sun also reported on Wednesday that the Government was set to change official guidance and advise Brits to wear masks at work and when travelling.

But England's deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, said Government scientific advisers are keeping the evidence on face masks for the public under review.

He said supplies for health and social care workers must never be jeopardised.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said the Government will "listen to what the Sage advisory group says on masks and then we will implement that."

Mr Khan said: “What I'm not saying is we should use surgical masks, visors or personal protective equipment.

“What I am saying is that a non-medical facial covering can limit you if you're carrying the virus - if you're pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic passing it on.

“So this is additional protection on top of staying home, unless you really have to leave your home.

“On top of washing your hands regularly and thoroughly and on top of keeping your social distance.

“On those occasions where you can't keep your social distance, on public transport or going to the shop, wearing a non-medical facial covering will minimise the chances of you giving someone the virus.”

He added: “There is a separate discussion where many experts are on my side, the government disagrees, that non-medical facial coverings can minimise the chances of giving someone else the virus.

“It's one of the most unselfish things you can do. The best way to protect our public transport workers is when we have to use public transport if we wear a non-medical facial covering it minimises the chances of ourselves giving the virus.”

The World Health Organisation said in updated guidance on Monday that masks could help limit the spread of the disease but are insufficient unless used alongside other measures.

The Chatham House Centre for Universal Health also said wearing a mask in the street is a risk because “people might have the false sense of security that they are not being infected and might not physically distance from others.”

They added: “Masks can't replace physical distancing. They help if you can't physically distance in a closed environment, e.g the tube, if everyone wears a mask properly.

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“If someone wears a mask wrongly, it makes it less safe and possibly spreads droplets which would contaminate a surface.”

The issue was also raised during today’s first ever virtual sitting of Parliament.

Labour MP Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) asked Health Secretary Matt Hancock: "It seems increasingly likely that part of what will be required to tackle this virus in future will be the wearing of masks by members of the public in certain situations.

"If the Government comes to the point based on the scientific advice that that is recommended, is the Government's policy to provide masks to the public and, if so, what is his (Mr Hancock's) plan to source them, given the difficulties we have seen with PPE supply, or will members of the public be expected to source their own?"

Mr Hancock responded: "We'll follow the advice, we'll listen to what the Sage advisory group says on masks and then we will implement that.

"I can't promise that we will give everybody free masks, I mean that would be an extraordinary undertaking, and we do have to make sure that we have supplies available especially for health and social care staff where the scientific advice throughout has been that the wearing of masks is necessary in those circumstances and we've got to make sure the provision is there for them."

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