Face masks ‘not a magic bullet’ in preventing the spread of coronavirus, says First Minister

Wearing a face mask is not a “magic bullet” in preventing the spread of coronavirus, the First Minister of Wales has said.

Mark Drakeford (pictured) said the Welsh Government would keep the guidance on the wearing of face masks in public under review.

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

They are are not mandatory in Wales but are recommended in places like public transport, but must be worn on public transport in England and Scotland, and in shops in Scotland.

Mr Drakeford told the plenary: “What I commit to is to keeping the issue continuously under review and to take the advice of those who are best placed to provide that advice to us.

“If the advice changes, then our position in Wales will change as well.

“Wearing a face covering is not by itself a magic bullet that prevents people from contracting or spreading coronavirus.

“Our own chief medical officer has always had an anxiety, and it’s an anxiety I see being shared in other parts of the world, that when people wear a face covering, they act in ways that they wouldn’t if they weren’t wearing it and they act in riskier ways as well.

“The belief that by wearing a face covering it is somehow alright not to observe social distancing, for example, not to take care in how you put it on and how you take it off, not to avoid touching your face, because we know that that is one of the ways in which the virus is most likely to be spread.

“I think it is important that we attend to the fact that there are potential downsides as well as upsides to this.

“That’s why we keep it continuously under review and if the position changes then the Welsh Government’s position will change as well.”

MS Caroline Jones told the First Minister that coronavirus was spread by coughs and sneezes but also carried in microdroplets and by asymptomatic carriers.

“We also know that face coverings can help to catch microdroplets and prevent the spread of coronavirus,” the Brexit Party member for South West Wales said.

“So, why, then, is Wales one of the only countries in the world that does not mandate the use of face coverings in some settings? I would like to see face coverings mandatory in all public settings.”

Conservative MS Laura Anne Jones called for an “urgent review” of the face mask guidance and said it was “both farcical and confusing” to have different approaches in England and Wales when people are regularly crossing the border.

Mr Drakeford replied: “I’m very alert to the impact of the border here. There are actions on either side of the border.

“It is not a matter of ‘England makes a change and Wales must follow’. It would be perfectly possible to have had a conversation with the UK Government where we could have reached a joint position. Unfortunately that conversation was never offered to us.”

Mr Drakeford also said that he was hopeful of reaching an agreement with the UK Government over a joint biosecurity centre.

“I’ve always thought that a joint biosecurity centre would be something that would be helpful to us in Wales,” he said.

“I believe, from the advice that I have had from my officials, that we are close to a position where we can sign up to it formally.”

Andrew Goodall, chief executive of NHS Wales, told a press conference in Cardiff that for members of the public, the use of face coverings should be “considered seriously”, particularly in close settings.

“It’s not mandated in Wales but it is a very strong recommendation in line with the World Health Organisation advice,” Dr Goodall said.

He told the press conference that all local authority areas in Wales were reporting smaller numbers of positive coronavirus cases, with many reporting no cases.

“The number of new cases has been declining since April, even though we are doing many more tests every day,” he said.

“The number of people dying from coronavirus has been falling since the middle of April.”

There are 529 Covid-related patients in Welsh hospitals – a reduction of more than 60% from the peak in April.

Twelve people are being treated in critical care for coronavirus, the lowest number since the pandemic started.

On Wednesday, Public Health Wales said a further four people had died after testing positive for Covid-19, taking the total number of deaths to 1,538.

Total positive cases recorded in Wales increased by 13 to 15,913.

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