Government's face mask advice needs to be 'simple', says former health secretary

11 July 2020, 11:48

Jeremy Hunt has called for "simplicity" in the government&squot;s advice over face masks
Jeremy Hunt has called for "simplicity" in the government's advice over face masks. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Face mask advice from the Government needs to be "simple", former health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.

The Conservative MP for South West Surrey said people should wear face coverings in shops, while also calling for more clarity in the Government's messaging on masks.

Mr Hunt, who is the chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said No 10 needs to provide a "simple" message in order to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Although the public health advice is "understandable," there are still questions that it fails to answer, the former health secretary added.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he does "go all 'nanny' on" the issue of wearing face coverings.

People in England are currently advised to wear them in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is not possible, whereas it is mandatory to wear them on public transport and when visiting hospitals.

In Scotland, face masks are already required to be worn in shops.

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Mr Hunt said: "I understand the public health advice, which is that if there's a risk of being less than two metres close to someone then you should wear it but if not you don't have to.

"But it doesn't answer the basic question which is 'if I'm going shopping, should I wear a face mask or not?'

"And I think with public health advice in a pandemic you just need simplicity, so I would favour saying we should wear face masks in shops."

It comes after Boris Johnson was seen wearing a mask in public for the first time on Friday.

The prime minister hinted that he is considering enforcing "stricter" rules on mandatory face masks in England, including wearing them in shops.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth also said "strong and clear guidance" was needed from the Government when it comes to its messaging regarding face coverings.

The Prime Minister has hinted that face masks may become mandatory in shops in England
The Prime Minister has hinted that face masks may become mandatory in shops in England. Picture: Twitter

Meanwhile, crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said there was a "common-sense element" to the wearing of masks.

"We're learning as we go and our response has to be agile, and if the science is developing towards masks as good mitigation in circumstances where you can't maintain the two metres (social distancing), then obviously the Government will look at that and make a recommendation as to how people should behave," he said.

"But to be perfectly honest with you, and certainly with most of the people I talk to, there's a kind of common-sense element to it.

"People should grasp the notion that you know our job is to not catch it and not pass it on if we do. And most people kind of get that."

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Mr Johnson, speaking during a public Q&A session, said he is actively considering tightening the rules in England as the lockdown is lifted and infection numbers decrease.

When asked whether shoppers in England could be told they must cover their faces, Mr Johnson said: "As we get the numbers down in the way we have and we stamp out local outbreaks in the way that we are, I do think we need to be stricter about insisting people wear face coverings in confined places where they are meeting people they don't normally meet.

"That is why it is mandatory already on public transport."

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has urged the prime minister to be "stricter on face masks."

He said: "Why don't the Government get their act together and make face masks mandatory in shops and enclosed spaces?

"Once again, we are behind the rest of the world in our response to this virus."

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