Government must ensure physical distancing is possible where face coverings are not mandatory, says BMA

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Thursday 23 July 2020

Government must ensure physical distancing is possible where face coverings are not mandatory, says BMA

As the Government finally releases further details around when and where face coverings must be worn in England ahead of new rules coming in tomorrow, the BMA has questioned why this took so long and says it’s vital that measures are extended to all places where physical distancing is not possible.

Despite announcing the policy of mandatory face coverings in shops 10 days ago, the Government only published further details this afternoon, hours before it came into force, following more than a week of confusion around where the rules would apply.

The BMA was one of the first organisations to support the wearing of face coverings in public, and while the new measures are long overdue, the doctors’ professional association and union believes that they should apply wherever people are unable to maintain physical distance of more than 2 metres and no other mitigating measures are in place.

While the new guidance clarifies that takeaway shops will be subject to the rules, it lists a number of settings that are excluded from the measures, including theatres and museums. The BMA says that if face coverings are not mandatory in these places, there must be a requirement to ensure that people can keep more than two metres apart, or for other mitigating measures such as screen barriers to be put in place.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“The BMA has for months said that face coverings can play an important role in suppressing the spread of Covid-19, and tomorrow’s measures are long overdue – especially given the 10-day time lag between the announcement and implementation.

“In the 10 days since this rule change was announced, we’ve seen confusion, mixed messaging and U-turns from the Government about how it would apply, leaving it until the last minute to issue any meaningful guidance.

“So, while today’s guidance is in some ways helpful, the uncertainty of recent weeks has done nothing to inspire public confidence.

“Meanwhile, if venues such as theatres, museums and salons are not subject to these rules, there must be an absolute assurance that they can protect the public by enforcing physical distancing or putting other mitigating measures in place such as the installation of screens – and the Government must support them in this.

“The virus does not discriminate between buildings and it’s vital that all necessary steps are put in place to minimise the chance of asymptomatic sufferers unwittingly passing on the infection. This is particularly important while the virus is still so prevalent in the community.

“We need consistency, and at the very least the Government must focus on being crystal clear with the public and businesses around what is expected of them, and how everyone can make wearing a face covering when appropriate as much a part of their daily life as putting a seat belt on when they get in a car.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.