Wearing Masks When Ill “Not Compulsory”, UK Government Says
The UK government has stressed that it is “not compulsory” to wear a mask while ill, though it has been “longstanding advice” from health authorities.
It comes after Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), issued advice on Jan. 2 saying adults should “wear a face covering” if they have to leave the house while feeling unwell.
The UKHSA handed out the advice this week in a bid to counter high levels of flu, COVID-19, and invasive Strep A disease.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper also said it would be “sensible” to do so if travelling.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper arrives for a government COBRA emergency committee meeting at the Cabinet Office in London, on Dec. 14, 2022. (Victoria Jones/PA Media)
Asked for the government’s opinion on the UKHSA’s guidance, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said on Jan. 3: “Obviously that’s advice they put out. I think that is pretty longstanding advice.
“It remains health advice to the public—it is not mandatory. People need their judgment. Certainly people will continue to use their good sense, having spent a long time dealing … with these kinds of infectious illnesses.”
Questioned whether it was really “longstanding” advice for people to wear face coverings if they are battling a cold, the spokesman replied: “That’s not what the advice says. What you’ll see is, as has often been the case, if people are ill, they are advised to stay at home.
“Obviously people can choose to wear a mask if they wish to. It is not compulsory. This is advice from UKHSA rather than government ministers telling people what to do, as we saw during the height of the pandemic before the emergence of vaccines.”
Asked if the prime minister would consider wearing a mask while feeling unwell, the spokesman said he had not put the question to Sunak.
“I imagine it is down to individual circumstances,” the spokesman told reporters.
‘Sensible Thing to Do’
Asked if he would wear a mask if he was ill with COVID-19, Harper, the transport secretary, told LBC radio: “First of all, you should stay at home if you think you have got COVID or you have got flu. Actually the most sensible thing to do is to not go out and spread it. If you do go out, clearly wearing a mask is very sensible if you are ill.
“But we manage these illnesses now by vaccination. People should get vaccinated for COVID, they should also get a flu vaccination. We have seen very high levels of flu this winter.”
The UK has followed a long list of other countries in taking precautionary measures in response to an increase in COVID-19 cases in China on the heels of the communist regime’s abrupt lifting of stringent zero-COVID restrictions last month.
In the first 20 days of December, 248 million people in China likely became infected, according to an internal meeting memo of China’s top health body that was leaked online. The number dwarfs the COVID-19 data and death tally officially released so far, which international experts have said is disproportionate to the actual scale of the outbreak.
The United States, Italy, Spain, France, Australia, and Canada have adopted entry curbs on arrivals from China, following in the footsteps of China’s neighbouring nations and regions such as India, Malaysia, Japan, and Taiwan.
Travellers walk with their luggage at Beijing Capital International Airport, amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Beijing, China, on Dec. 27, 2022. (Tingshu Wang/Reuters)
Monitoring New Variants
Under new measures announced by UK Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Dec. 30, from Jan. 5, people flying from mainland China to England will be asked to take a test no more than two days prior to departure.
In addition, the UKHSA will launch new surveillance measures on Jan. 8, which will see a sample of passengers arriving from China tested for COVID-19 at the point of their arrival.
But Harper said that those who test positive on arrival will not be required to quarantine.
“What we are doing is we are collecting that information for surveillance purposes,” he said, adding, “The policy for arrivals from China is primarily about collecting information that the Chinese government are not sharing with the international community.”
“This is about a country, China, which isn’t sharing the health data with the global health system that we expect everybody to do. That is why we have put this temporary precautionary measure in place as China opens up its borders.”
He said it is a “very sensible, balanced proposition” which helps keep people in the UK safe but doesn’t put any restrictions on how people in the UK are able to operate.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said passengers “will not be allowed to board a flight” to the UK from China if they do not have evidence of a negative test result.
But, in a separate statement, a DHSC spokeswoman confirmed that tests upon arrival in England were “optional.”
She said: “We encourage people at the border to take a test to help themselves, their families, and wider knowledge on COVID. However, the testing is optional and people can decline if they wish to do so.”
Downing Street said the government would set out the full details regarding new rules for travellers entering the UK from mainland China or Hong Kong “in due course.”