Wales politics

Coronavirus in Wales: Face masks 'not a magic bullet' says FM

Woman wearing face mask Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The rules on face masks vary around the UK

Face masks are not a "magic bullet" for preventing coronavirus, First Minister Mark Drakeford has said.

He was responding to a call from a Brexit Party Senedd member for face masks to be made mandatory in public in Wales.

"If the advice changes our position in Wales will change as well," Mr Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament.

Face masks are not mandatory in Wales but are recommended in certain places, like on public transport.

However they must be used on public transport in England and Scotland, and in shops in Scotland.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged there is emerging evidence that coronavirus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air.

If the evidence is confirmed, it may affect guidelines for indoor spaces.

Appearing to refer to that debate, Caroline Jones claimed the virus could be spread "not just by coughs and sneezes but carried in micro-droplets" which were generated by "breathing and talking".

"Why then is Wales one of the only countries in the world that does not mandate the use of face coverings in some settings," the MS for South Wales West asked.

"I would like to see face coverings mandatory in all public settings."

But the first minister responded that "wearing a face covering is not by itself a magic bullet that prevents people from contracting or spreading coronavirus".

He said chief medical officer Frank Atherton was concerned that when people wore a face mask "they act in ways that they wouldn't if they weren't wearing it, and they act in risky ways as well".

Mr Drakeford said Ms Jones' case was "persuasive" but there were "potential downsides" as well as upsides.

'Farcical and confusing'

Conservative Laura Jones called for an urgent review of the face mask guidance.

The new MS for South Wales East said it was "farcical and confusing" to have one approach on one side of the border to the other.

But Mr Drakeford said it would have been perfectly possible to have had a conversation where the Welsh and UK governments could have reached a joint position, but said it was "never offered to us".

He said consistency along the border was "very much in my mind" on face coverings and other changes.

Meanwhile, NHS Wales chief executive Andrew Goodall said wearing face masks should be "seriously considered" by the public, "particularly in closed settings".

He said that although "the WHO hasn't come out with a definitive position", if its advice was to change, then the Welsh Government would undertake its own review.

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