Coronavirus: Widen rules on where face coverings must be used, say UK doctors

Doctors have urged the government to make face coverings compulsory in all places where social distancing is not possible, not just on public transport.

All passengers on public transport in England must wear a covering from 15 June, the government said on Thursday.

But the British Medical Association, the doctors' union, said masks "should not be restricted" to transport.

It also said the risk from coronavirus would be "much less" if the rule started now, not later in the month.

Face coverings - which can be homemade - must be worn on buses, trams, trains, coaches, aircraft and ferries.

Passengers will not be allowed to travel without one, and if they do not wear one they could be fined.

Very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties will be exempt.

The current guidance in England, which has been in place since last month, advises people to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible, such as in some shops.

People in Scotland and Northern Ireland are also currently advised to wear coverings in places where social distancing is more difficult, while the Welsh government says it is a matter of personal choice.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the new measure comes as passenger numbers are expected to increase when lockdown measures are eased further.

From 15 June in England, secondary schools and colleges will open to some students, while shops can reopen if they put social distancing measures in place.

Defending the decision not to make face coverings mandatory on public transport until mid-June, Mr Shapps said the evidence of their benefits was "marginal" - and that so far the transport system had only been at 5% capacity.

He told the BBC the move was "not some panacea" but provided "some reassurance to passengers".

Mr Shapps said wearing face coverings in shops was not being made compulsory because people were less likely to be near to somebody else for a long period of time.

Doctors' warning

The BMA said in April that the government should consider asking people to cover their faces whenever they leave home.

BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the new rule to wear face coverings "should not be restricted to public transport but to all areas where social distancing is not always possible".

He also said the government should ensure the public are supplied with face coverings, as well as providing advice on how to wear them correctly.

However, charities have previously raised concerns that face coverings make communication more difficult for people who are deaf or have hearing loss and rely on visual cues such as facial expressions and lip-reading.

A further 1,806 cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK on Thursday. The number of people who have died with the virus rose by 176, taking the total number of deaths to 39,904.

At Thursday's daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Shapps said that people in England should wear the kind of face covering that could be made at home, to keep surgical masks for medical and care staff.

They should cover the mouth and nose and can be as simple as a scarf or bandanna tied snugly behind the head.

Transport operators will be able to issue penalty fines for those who do not follow the rules, in a similar way to people who travel without a ticket. Officers from the British Transport Police will help to enforce the measures.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said there would be an "element of discretion and good faith" when it came to enforcing the policy but he was confident most people would follow the rules voluntarily.

They should cover the mouth and nose and can be as simple as a scarf or bandanna tied snugly behind the head.

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