Face masks not recommended in Wales, health minister says

People in Wales will not be recommended to wear face masks in public, the health minister has said.

Vaughan Gething said the use of non-medical masks or coverings should only be “a matter of personal choice”, contrasting with advice given in the rest of the United Kingdom.

On Tuesday, Public Health Wales said a total of 1,132 people have now died after testing positive for coronavirus, an increase of 16 on Monday’s figures, while a further 105 positive tests brought the total number of cases to 11,573.

Mr Gething told the Welsh Government’s daily press briefing the chief medical officer for Wales Frank Atherton “does not recommend that everyone should wear face masks or coverings”.

“He believes this should be a matter of personal choice,” Mr Gething said.

Dr Atherton later released a statement saying Covid-19 had put strain on supplies of PPE across the world, and that there were doubts there would be enough clinical masks for people on the front line if the public began to use them too.

He said using non-clinical coverings “might be useful” in stopping transmissions through coughs and sneezes and preventing touching of the face, but could also lead to both an increase in “risky behaviours” by people with symptoms and to discrimination by those who cannot make or buy one.

Dr Atherton said: “As chief medical officer for Wales, I am not recommending everyone wears a non-clinical face covering in Wales – I am not recommending they are compulsory.

“However, I support the public’s right to choose whether to wear them.

“Our advice remains to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.

“If you are leaving your home to work, shop or exercise, you should take all possible measures to stay safe and protect yourself, including maintaining social distancing, washing your hands regularly and not touching your face.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

First Minister Mark Drakeford had said on Monday there was only a “marginal public health case” for non-medical face coverings, and that while people should wear them if it gave them “confidence”, he would not be making their use mandatory.

The UK Government has stated people in England should wear face coverings when they are in “an enclosed space where social distancing isn’t possible and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet”.

Scottish Government guidance recommends using coverings including scarves, saying “there may be some benefit in wearing a facial covering” when leaving home to go to enclosed spaces, giving examples of protecting against transmission for people while on public transport or entering a food shop.

Northern Ireland’s health minister Robin Swann has also recommended members of the public consider using face coverings “for short periods in enclosed spaces, where social distancing is not possible”.

Also at Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Gething said the daily Covid-19 testing capacity in Wales had now reached 5,330, though data from Public Health Wales showed only 1,193 tests were actually carried out on Monday.

We’re not making it compulsory for everyone to wear a face covering when they leave home. This should be a personal choice. But we want you to have all the facts.@CMOWales sets out the advantages and disadvantages of face coverings 👇https://t.co/I3EbevFOjApic.twitter.com/bNM3csxki2

— Welsh Government (@WelshGovernment) May 12, 2020

Mr Gething said he expected to see an increase in the use of the capacity this week, while work was continuing to increase the amount of tests available ahead of Wales adopting its “test, track, trace” plan.

The health minister responded to questions regarding a Twitter post he made before the press conference, in which he said The Sun newspaper was planning to print a photo of him taken on Saturday on a walk with his wife and five-year-old son.

He said: “We went local to ourselves, it’s a walk we can do from time to time. And we stopped for food on the way. All of those things are within the regulations, so there’s absolutely no breach of the guidance or the rules themselves.”

Elsewhere, Wales Golf, the country’s governing body for the sport, announced golf clubs were now permitted to reopen at their own discretion, after the Welsh Government clarified courses were not included on the list of businesses that must remain closed.

Golfers, however, will need to be local to a course in order not to breach restrictions on travelling for exercise.