Government announcement on mandatory face coverings in England is long overdue – but measures should be implemented immediately, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 14 July 2020

The Government’s announcement that face coverings will be mandatory for people visiting shops in England from 24 July is long overdue, the British Medical Association says – but measures need to be introduced immediately rather than waiting for 11 days.

The policy must also be extended for all places where social distancing cannot be maintained, the association says.

The announcement comes on the same day that a major survey by the BMA revealed thousands of doctors overwhelmingly support the move to require mandatory face coverings for all settings where social distancing is not possible.

More than 5,000 doctors in England and Wales took part in the survey and 86% said it should be mandatory to wear face masks in settings, where the public either cannot or will not social distance1.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the BMA, looking at developing evidence, has said the wearing of nose and mouth coverings helps control the spread of infection and so saves lives2.

On Tuesday morning BMA UK council voted overwhelmingly in favour of the mandatory wearing of face coverings in public places where physical distancing of two metres or more is not possible, further firming up the Association's position on the issue3.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said:

“For months doctors at the BMA have called on the Government to stop equivocating and to ask people to wear face coverings over their mouths and noses in public places where they cannot safely socially distance. Up until now the Westminster Government has refused to put in place this logical policy to prevent spread of the virus, and which has been the norm in around 120 countries globally including most of Europe – so this step is long overdue.

“However, why is it waiting another 11 days to implement this policy, when the risk from Covid-19 remains present right now? This needs to happen immediately given that each day that goes by adds to the risk of spread and endangers lives. The BMA also believes that the wearing of face coverings should be extended to all settings where people cannot maintain physical distancing.

“The latest ONS figures suggest that there are 1,700 new cases of coronavirus in England daily, which shows a lot more needs to be done before we can say this infection is anywhere near being under long-term control.

“Today’s survey results tell us that doctors overwhelmingly believe that the public should wear face coverings to curb the spread of the infection and prevent further local outbreaks or a second national spike, which would overwhelm the NHS as we approach the winter period.

“Making it mandatory to wear nose and mouth coverings isn’t a fix all, but it will significantly reduce the risk of catching the virus for millions of people and will also help our economy and our health service.

“As more and more shops and social areas open, the more people will naturally want to visit them. By wearing a face covering, they reduce the risk to others and reduce the spread of a virus that’s already claimed more than forty thousand lives.”

Such a change to the law would bring England broadly in line with Scotland, Ireland and around 120 countries that have already mandated facial coverings to mitigate the potential detrimental effects of easing lockdown. The Association believes people should have to wear masks until such time that the risk of COVID-19 poses minimal threat to the health of the population and economic stability of this country.

Notes to editors

  1. Of 5,032 doctors who answered the question “To what extent, if at all, do you agree that the use of face coverings should be made mandatory in all settings where social distancing is not possible?”, 63% said they strongly agreed, while 24% said they somewhat agreed. Doctors were surveyed between Tuesday 7 and Thursday 9 July 2020. Full survey results available here.
  2. Government should explore public use of face coverings, but NHS staff must be priority for PPE supplies, says BMA (26 April 2020)
  3. BMA UK council passed the following motion:
    "Given the evidence that cloth face coverings reduce droplet transmission from symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers of nSARSCoV-2 and the overwhelming views of doctors in the latest BMA survey, this meeting believes the English government should mandate the use of face coverings in public places where physical distancing 2 metres or more is not possible, until such time that the risk of COVID-19 poses minimal threat to the health of the population and economic stability of England."
    83% for, 7% against, 9% abstained.
  4. The BMA has produced a face mask infographic and social media animation explaining what types of face covering are appropriate.