Coronavirus: 'Last thing Wales needs is face mask shaming', says top official

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The last thing Wales needs is a culture of people being "shamed" because they are not wearing masks, the country's chief medical officer Frank Atherton has said.

Wales is the only UK nation that has not recommended the use of face coverings.

People in England are being advised to wear coverings in some enclosed spaces.

Dr Atherton said their benefits had been potentially "oversold" and there were "practical drawbacks".

The Welsh Government is not telling the public to refrain from wearing masks - but it is not making it mandatory, or recommending their use.

Officials think the potential benefits are low, and are worried about any impact on supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for the NHS.

Speaking on BBC Radio Wales Breakfast with Claire Summers, Dr Atherton argued basic hygiene and social distancing can make more of a difference than the compulsory use of face masks.

"My advice is that people should use them if they choose to, but they shouldn't be mandatory," he said.

"We shouldn't be saying that people have to wear face masks here in Wales, but if they choose to do so then obviously that's… their right."

He said the benefits are "quite small". The UK government SAGE advisory group had "drawn the conclusion there is a small benefit but it's based on very weak evidence", he said.

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Dr Atherton said he is worried about creating a culture of mistrust

But he said people who have symptoms "shouldn't feel that they can put on a face mask and go about their business going to a supermarket.

"That will be extremely risky. People who have symptoms really should be staying home," he said.

He said there is a risk "people could start to use supplies which really should be going into the NHS".

"And the third thing that I really worry about is creating a culture of mistrust," he added.

"The last thing I think we need in Wales is a kind of mask shaming, because somebody hasn't got a mask.

"We have to focus on basic hygiene, on the social distancing measures, not touching our face when we can avoid it, and keeping our distance.

"Those are the things that can make a difference, not relying on compulsory use of face masks."