The Speaker
Saturday, 25 May 2024 – 22:07

Wales’ CMO says wearing of face coverings should be ‘a matter of personal choice’

The topic of whether to wear face masks or face coverings during the Coronavirus pandemic has been a contentious issue. 

The UK Government has recently advised members of the public on the wearing of face coverings. Official advice from the government states that people are encouraged to “wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible”. Only homemade face coverings should be used – people are urged not to wear clinical face masks intended for health care professionals.

However, in a statement on Tuesday, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton said: “I am not recommending the compulsory wearing of face coverings by everyone whenever they leave home – this should be a matter of personal choice.”

Dr Atherton said that evidence from SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) showed that non-clinical face coverings had a “small, but marginally positive effect on reducing the risk of a coronavirus infection in others.”

However, Dr Atherton said he had concerns about “three harms”, which he claimed would come about if he recommended face coverings for public use in Wales. These included;

  • Problems in relation to stocks of clinical masks used by frontline caregivers
  • An increase in risky behaviours due to people thinking a face-covering would protect them from the virus
  • Discrimination – as not everyone can buy a mask or make one

Dr Atherton also reiterated that the advice in Wales remains to “stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.”

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at the weekend that the UK Government’s slogan had changed to ‘Stay Alert, Control The Virus, Save Lives’, however, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all chosen to stick with the ‘Stay at Home’ message instead. 

The advice around the world on wearing face masks and face coverings is mixed. A growing number of countries have been advising, or even making compulsory the use of face masks in some settings, such as on public transport.


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