Wales to consider rules on face coverings, Mark Drakeford says
Wales will consider making face coverings compulsory on public transport, the First Minister has said.
Mark Drakeford said England’s decision to bring in a requirement for coverings had raised issues for people commuting between the two countries.
It came as Public Health Wales said a further four people had died after testing positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of deaths to 1,383, while the number of positive cases grew by 76 to 14,314.
On Friday, Mr Drakeford was questioned about his government’s position on non-medical coverings after a trade union representing doctors in Wales said bringing in rules would help control the spread of Covid-19 and save lives.
Mr Drakeford told the Government’s daily press briefing in Cardiff: “The context for face coverings has changed because of an announcement made yesterday in England about mandatory use of face masks on public transport.
“That will not come in until June 15, and that gives us a short number of days in order to consider the position here in Wales recognising that changed context.”
Mr Drakeford said a “definitive statement” on the issue would be made in the first part of next week, and that detailed questions about England’s new rules would be explored with ministers and officials in Westminster.
But he said the UK Government had not discussed or given advanced notice of the decision with Wales, and questioned whether England was concerned with “making the headline, and then worrying about the detail afterwards”.
“I wish that we’d had a chance to explore this with the UK Government before they made the announcements,” he said.
“That would have allowed us to have some answers to the questions that I raised today before the event rather than after the event.
“But while on the bulk of issues we continue to be able to have discussion and co-operation in advance of decision making, in a small number of cases we hear about it only after the decision has been made.”
He added: “We’re going to have to use the time we now have to find out from them the extent to which they have got answers to these questions in advance of making the decision, or whether it’s a matter of making the headline, and then worrying about the detail afterwards.”
Mr Drakeford said the advice from the chief medical officer for Wales remained that wearing face masks gave people “some marginal extra protection” but was not sufficient to make it mandatory.
“The chief medical officer has expressed his anxieties that people might do more risky things because they think a face mask offers them protection, which it doesn’t,” Mr Drakeford said.
“But context changes because in England it is mandatory to use face masks while on public transport.
“Trains and roads between north and south Wales weave in and out of the border all the time and in a sheer practical sense, we have to think through whether having separate regimes is a possibility when you can leave on a train that starts in Wales, goes into England, comes back into Wales, goes back into England, comes back into Wales.”
Earlier on Friday the British Medical Association (BMA) Wales called on the Welsh Government to change its stance on non-medical face coverings, and ensure a supply are available to the public.
The trade union’s council chair for Wales, Dr David Bailey, said: “BMA Cymru Wales advocates the wearing of face coverings by the public in areas where they cannot socially distance.
“There still remains a considerable risk of infection, and emerging evidence has shown that if mouths and noses are covered when people are in areas where they cannot socially distance, it may help in controlling the spread of infection of Covid-19 and therefore save lives.
“BMA Cymru Wales is calling on the Welsh Government to change their position immediately, to lessen the risk of the public spreading the virus.”
Wales’ main train operator, Transport for Wales, said it would “work collaboratively” with partners to ensure passengers were kept safe travelling across borders.
A spokesman said: “The cross-border nature of our network means that we will continue to work collaboratively with industry partners to ensure customers understand how they can travel safely as they travel between Wales and England.
“The safety of our colleagues and customers is our top priority and we’d like to reinforce the message to stay local and only use public transport if the journey is essential and there’s no other travel alternative.”