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Masks only effective if ‘everyone does it’ warn health leaders

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Experience has taught us that we can’t guarantee people will behave responsibly to prevent Covid transmission and wear masks, the chair of the British Safety Council has warned.


Responding to the removal of legal restrictions including masks and social distancing, the charity is urging the government to re-think its decision.

It says that, given that cases are rising and the risks it presents to worker safety, mask wearing should not be a personal choice.

Lawrence Waterman, Chairman of the British Safety Council, said: “To go from the controls put in place for the last 15 months to nothing overnight is a significant risk and particularly to UK workers. While we would all like to believe that everyone will act responsibly, experience shows us this is not guaranteed. There has been a fantastic level of public compliance with the rules, why go from collective protection to a free-for-all?”

“The Prime Minster himself has said caution is absolutely vital – if he truly believes this, then he should show leadership on the wearing of masks rather than take a leap of faith into the unknown that risks all the sacrifices and hard-won progress made since March 2020.”

It comes as the chief scientist in charge of modelling data on Covid hospital admissions and deaths, Graham Medley, chair of the SPI-M modelling group, said masks only work “if everybody does it.”

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on 13 July, he said: “Without the [mandated approach] we end up in a situation where even if the majority – say 70 per cent wear a mask – will that do any good because of the 30 per cent who don’t? If it’s not mandated it probably won’t do any good.”

The legal requirement to wear a face covering in shops, public transport and other enclosed public spaces will end on 19 July and be replaced with government guidance. Photograph: iStock

Making his briefing on 12 July, Prime Minister, Boris Johnson urged people not to be ‘de mob happy’, but to exercise caution once restrictions are removed from next week.

“This pandemic is not over. This disease coronavirus continues to carry risks for you and for your family. We cannot simply revert instantly from Monday 19th July to life as it was before Covid.”

Updated government guidance says that people should ‘use [their] judgement in deciding where [they] should wear [a mask]’. “Businesses, including transport operators, can also ask their employees and customers to wear face coverings. You should check with operators of services, venues, and settings that you use.”

The relaxation on masks only applies to England. In Wales, face coverings are to continue to be required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport, with the exception of hospitality settings. There is currently no set date for when face masks will stop being mandatory in Scotland.

Responding to the developments, Duncan Spencer, IOSH’s Head of Advice and Practice, said employers should help to influence safe behaviours.

“Risk assessments can help to identify proportionate controls to protect workers, clients, consumers and communities. With Covid risks, this might include a reasonable request for people to continue wearing face masks and observe social distancing measures. Employers might wish to emulate other socially conscious organisations by asking workers to test themselves regularly, including supplying them with lateral flow test kits.

“It is crucial that any preventative measures are communicated clearly, thereby empowering people to work safely while this disease remains a significant threat.”

Face coverings guidance: bit.ly/3kCPHCT

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