On whether the Government should recommend the wearing of face coverings for the public, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“It is imperative that the Government ensures essential supplies of PPE, including face masks, are prioritised for frontline NHS staff. This must not be compromised in any way.
“There is some emerging evidence that if mouths and noses are covered when people are out and about, it may help in in controlling the spread of infection of COVID-19 and so save lives.
“Whilst this needs to be fully investigated and verified, given the immediate need to prevent spread of infection, the BMA believes that essential workers who cannot practice social distancing, such as transport workers, shopkeepers, carers or supermarket staff, should now be provided with masks or suitable face coverings. This is in addition to rigorous infection control measures.
“We can see that countries such as Germany, Austria the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are already implementing the wearing of face coverings for all those in public settings and this has also been recommended by the centre for disease and communication in the USA . The UK Government should not equivocate any further.
“The Government must pursue all avenues of reducing the spread of infection, however small, given the serious impact of this disease on the lives of the population. This includes considering asking the public to wear face coverings to cover mouths and noses when people leave home for essential reasons.
“However, given that supply problems of PPE continue to place healthcare workers at risk, it is imperative that the use of facemasks by others does not take vital supplies away from frontline NHS staff.
“Until sufficient supplies of PPE are provided, including the essential availability of face masks for health and care staff, this may mean initially wearing cloth masks and scarves. But this must not reduce the need and importance of continued adherence to social distancing and proper hand hygiene.
“Equally the public must be informed and educated on how and when to use face coverings properly.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union 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.