Coronavirus: The politics of Face masks, France Wearing masks ‘in enclosed public spaces’ to become mandatory

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Wearing a Face mask has always been good advice, lots of people are asking why now?

Richard Gray gave a wrote a great article ‘Why we should all be wearing face masks‘ While a few months ago anyone wearing a mask in public would have drawn stares in many countries unused to this behaviour, they are now a reminder of the strange times we live in. And as governments around the world start to ease their lockdowns to allow their citizens out to mingle in the wider world again, growing numbers of people are opting to wear face masks in public.

But there is still debate about whether members of the public should be encouraged to wear face masks at all, and in some places, such as the US, there have been vocal refusals from prominent individuals over wearing face masks in public. Recent polling has suggested around a third of Americans venture out into public without wearing a mask. A YouGov poll conducted in March suggests that in Spain, Italy and China over 80% of people asked say they wear face coverings.

The UK has one of the lowest adoption rates, with just 36% of people saying they wear a mask, but the government there has now announced it will make wearing face masks compulsory in shops from 24 July 2020.

In some countries, such as the US, mask wearing has become an intensely political issue. Some deafness organisations have also warned that widespread facemask wearing may disadvantage people with hearing problems.

In the early days of the pandemic, many governments warned the public against wearing face masks for fear demand would leave frontline health workers without vital supplies and that it may lull people into a false sense of security. Some – such as the US – have since reversed that advice. The state of Utah has said it will provide a free face mask to any citizen who requests it. And other countries such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Morocco, Turkey and Germany have all made wearing masks in public mandatory. It is likely others will follow their lead as they ease restrictions.

France will in the next few weeks make it compulsory for people to wear masks in shops and other enclosed public spaces to stop a resurgence of the COVID-19 outbreak, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday.

The virus, which killed more than 30,000 people in France, has been on the decline, but Macron said it was spreading again in some places as France opens up beaches, bars and restaurants after a two-month lockdown.

“We have some signs that it’s coming back a bit,” Macron said in an interview with French broadcasters. “Faced with that, we must anticipate and prepare.

“I want us, in the next few weeks, to make masks compulsory in enclosed public places.

“I ask fellow citizens to wear masks as much as possible when they are outside, and especially so when they are in an enclosed space,” Macron said.

The biggest challenge France faced in the next six months was an expected wave of joblessness as firms hit by the epidemic lay off workers, he said.

The urgent demand for NHS PPE has been reduced, now the pressure is on the public to cover up.

Here in the UK, the Government announced on Tuesday that masks would be mandatory in shops from July 24.

Boris Johnson had said on Monday that he thought “face coverings do have a real value in confined spaces,” adding that the scientific evidence in favour of masks was growing.

“We are not out of the woods yet, so let us all do our utmost to keep this virus cornered and enjoy summer safely,” health minister Matt Hancock said in the House of Commons on Monday.

Enforcement will be carried out by police – not retail staff – and anyone failing to wear a face covering while shopping will be subject to a fine of up to £100, or £50 if paid within 14 days.

The rules to tackle coronavirus will be the same as those currently applicable on public transport in England, which means children under 11 and people with certain disabilities will be exempt.

Many had criticised the government’s messaging after Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove said masks should not be mandatory.

But more countries are considering making face masks mandatory indoors, amid growing evidence that they protect people from infecting others and amid fear of a second wave of virus cases.

Why on earth aren’t English politicians wearing face masks?

Shadow minister Lucy Powell (left) visiting a Brewdog bar with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. (PA)

Photo opportunities should be a perfect moment to remind the public of the safety benefits of masks. 

Criticism has been about politicians not setting an example such as Labour leader Keir Starmer has been pictured pouring a pint, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak filmed bringing restaurant punters their meals; neither man did anything to reduce their chances of passing on a potentially fatal virus to anyone who happened to be near to them at the time.

“I still don’t think Keir Starmer has not worn one in public which is a little bit concerning because we need to see the leadership from politicians on this.

“If politicians are going to say that we the people should be wearing a mask and then don’t wear one themselves, it just stinks of hypocrisy.

“It is important for Cabinet Ministers and people in the opposition to practise what they preach.”

The wearing of face coverings became compulsory in Scotland last week and around 120 countries – including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece – now require coverings to be worn in public places.

Politically savvy Nicola sturgeon the Scottish first minister used the tartan face mask to up the Scottish economy while giving to a worthy charity.

A kilt company has seen an “unbelievable” surge in demand for its tartan face masks after the First Minister was seen wearing one on a public visit on Friday.

Each mask costs £10 form the Slanj Kilts website, with 20 per cent of each sale going to Shelter Scotland.

It is said the masks have raised £8,000 for the homelessness charity, with more sales still to come.

Alison Watson Director of Shelter Scotland said: “We are delighting to see the FM wearing the Slanj Kilts tartan face mask.

“It is only because of the support of fundraisers like Slanj that we are able to provide the information, advice and representation that empowers people to keep their homes and access help with homelessness.

Wearing a face mask makes sense

To understand why face masks might work, it is important to look at how the virus that causes Covid-19 spreads in the first place.

Once it has infected someone, the Sars-CoV-2 virus responsible for the disease hijacks their cells to replicate itself. As it multiplies, these new virus particles then burst out of the cells and become suspended in the bodily fluids in our lungs, mouth and nose. When an infected person coughs, they can send showers of tiny droplets – known as aerosols – filled with the virus into the air.

A single cough can produce up to 3,000 droplets. There are fears the virus can also be spread simply through speaking. One recent study showed that we spray thousands of droplets invisible to the naked eye into the air just by uttering the words “stay healthy”.

Once out of our mouths, many of the larger droplets will quickly settle onto nearby surfaces while smaller ones remain suspended in the air for hours, where they can be breathed in. While the behaviour of the virus-filled droplets in rooms with air conditioning and outside environments are less well understood, they are thought to settle on surfaces more quickly in disturbed air. There are also some reports that the coronavirus can spread through ventilation systems in buildings. (Read more about how long coronavirus survives on surfaces.)

When an infected person coughs, they can send showers of tiny droplets – known as aerosols – filled with the virus into the air.

Stay safe protect others wear a mask

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