Wearing face coverings for up to eight weeks 'could get COVID-19 under control', says US expert

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4 min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust in London, Monday July 13, 2020. (Ben Stansall/Pool via AP)
Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, visits the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust in London. (AP)

The enforcement of face masks has the potential to get the coronavirus crisis under control in eight weeks, a US expert has claimed.

Robert Redfield, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the pandemic could be contained if all Americans wore face coverings in public.

Speaking to the Journal of the American Medical Association, Redfield said: "I think if we can get everyone to wear masks right now, we can bring this under control within four, six, eight weeks.”

President Donald Trump wears a mask as he walks down the hallway during his visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Saturday, July 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US president Donald Trump wears a mask as he walks down the hallway during his visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. (AP)

Politicising the issue

His comments come as both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have started to wear masks in public following months of going without one.

Wearing face masks on public transport has been required in the UK for several weeks, and the government announced on Tuesday that people in England would also have to wear coverings in shops from 24 July or face £100 fines.

The issue has become something of a political football on both sides of the Atlantic, which Redfield described as “sad”.

He added: "I am glad to see the president and vice president wear a mask.

“Clearly, in their situation they could easily justify they don't need to… but we need for them to set the example.”

The decision to make face coverings mandatory in England's shops, with exemptions for children under 11 and people with certain disabilities and breathing conditions, has provoked fury in parts of the Conservative Party.

On social media, some grassroots members posted pictures of their cut-up membership cards, while in the Commons former minister Sir Desmond Swayne said "nothing would make me less likely to go shopping than the thought of having to mask up".

He questioned whether police had been consulted about the move because they "will have to enforce this monstrous imposition against myself and a number of outraged and reluctant constituents”.

Further enforcements?

The government is also said to be considering forcing people in England to wear face masks in all public places, according to the Telegraph.

Officials are thought to be considering the wider enforcement so people can go back to work without risking a second wave of coronavirus in winter.

Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk along Oxford Street in London, Tuesday, July 14, 2020.Britain's government is demanding people wear face coverings in shops as it has sought to clarify its message after weeks of prevarication amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Shoppers wearing protective face masks walk along Oxford Street in London. (Getty)

A government source told the paper: “There are no current plans to recommend face coverings in all public places, but things are moving very quickly and nothing can be ruled out.

“We spent a long time saying we wouldn't tell people to wear them in shops, but now that's what we've done.”

Police concerns over new rules

Police chiefs said officers should only be involved "as a last resort" if shoppers refuse to wear face coverings in England.

The National Police Chiefs' Council said it should be up to shopkeepers to manage entry into their stores and compliance with the law while inside.

The Police Federation, representing rank-and-file officers, said it was "unrealistic and unfair" to expect them to patrol the aisles looking for people breaking the coronavirus regulations.

A sign advising passengers to wear a face mask at Clapham Junction station as train services increased as part of the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, in London, Monday May 18, 2020.Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last Sunday that people could return to work if they could not work from home. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)
A sign advising passengers to wear a face mask at Clapham Junction station. (AP)

Shift in policy

The new face mask rules follows a weekend of confusion over whether ministers intended to make face coverings compulsory after the prime minister said they were looking at "stricter" rules.

Senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said on Sunday he did not believe they should be mandatory and that it was better to "trust people's common sense”.

FILE - In this file photo dated Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020, British lawmaker Michael Gove arrives at 10 Downing Street in London.  The British government is expected to water down plans for full border checks on goods coming from the European Union amid economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to new reports Friday June 12, 2020, Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit preparations, will announce a more “pragmatic and flexible” approach to imports.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, FILE)
Michael Gove said at the weekend that face masks in shops should not be mandatory. (AP)

The government has been urging people to wear face coverings in confined spaces such as shops since early May and they have been compulsory on public transport in England since mid-June.

The regulations will be made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100, reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said ministers needed to explain why it had taken them so long to act, accusing them of being "slow and muddled".

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