Key workers need to be given PPE to shield themselves from coronavirus – but not at the expense of health workers, the head of the British Medical Association has said.
Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA Council, said essential workers who cannot socially distance “need to have protection” but that it could not come at the expense of supplies for health and social care workers.
Many frontline medical staff have complained there is not enough PPE (personal protective equipment), such as gowns and masks, to go around.
Mr Nagpaul told Sky News: “Those key workers who cannot social distance – the bus drivers, the shopkeepers, the supermarket cashiers – also need to have protection because they are in close proximity to other people, too.
“However, it is vital that this must not mean that there is a reduction in essential and vital supplies of protective equipment, including masks, for health and care workers.”
Citing other countries that found “cloth coverings” could slightly reduce the rate of infection, he said: “Now if that is the case, the government needs to be clear about its message on that because this is a virus that is highly deadly…
“If you can reduce any deaths through a measure that will not reduce the provision of masks to the health and social care sector, then the government needs to make a decision as other nations have made a decision on this.”
It is not mandatory for people to wear masks in public settings in the UK – unlike in some other European countries such as Germany where it will soon become a requirement on public transport.
However, ministers are keeping it under review after recent advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).
Current guidance has emphasised an importance for doctors and nurses to wear masks but does not suggest wider use.
Mr Nagpaul warned that any change in the government’s advice on face coverings should not be interpreted as a replacement to regular hand washing and the usual social distancing measures.
He said: “Those measures must continue.
“And what we would not want is the public to have a false sense of security and start to mix more readily than socially distancing.”
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On Sunday, another 413 coronavirus-related deaths were reported in UK hospitals, bringing the total to 20,732.
It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab refused to bow to pressure to reveal an exit strategy to the lockdown, telling Sky News that it was “not responsible” to disclose what an easing of restrictions could look like.
He said any easing of restrictions would need to be “sure-footed”, and explained that that was the reason why the government was treading “very cautiously”.
“We are sticking to the scientific advice with the social-distancing measures at this time, whilst doing all the homework to make sure that we are prepared in due course for the next phase,” he said.