Whether to make masks mandatory is not just a matter of debate in the United States, where infection rates continue to rise rapidly.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged British residents to wear face covers in shops and other tight interior spaces on Monday – but did not make this mandatory.
Critics have accused Johnson’s government of failing to provide clarity on wearing the mask in the days since he began to backtrack on his previous advice that face covers were not necessary. After the Prime Minister was photographed wearing one in a store, government ministers appeared on television to recommend a personal choice regarding the mask problem.
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Meanwhile, the French government said on Monday that it plans to require masks in all indoor public places amid signs of a slight increase in confirmed virus cases – and a sharp drop in public vigilance . French scientists have pushed for such a demand in recent days as families travel across the country for the summer vacation, but the government has remained cautious.
Local mayors have already started to demand masks, particularly in the Mediterranean city of Nice, where images of thousands of people dancing during an outdoor DJ performance this weekend have raised national concerns .
Elsewhere in Europe, where the viral curve flattened widely months ago, most governments made masks mandatory as soon as they started to reopen their savings, requiring their use in shops and other indoor public spaces and in public transport. Some countries have imposed mask requirements as new outbreaks have appeared in recent days or weeks.
Britain and France, which have reported some of the highest coronavirus cases and deaths in the world, have taken a more relaxed attitude, recommending masks without requiring them.
At least so far.
“As the virus goes down and we get more and more successful, I think face covers are some kind of extra insurance that we can all use to keep it from coming back and keep it from getting out of control again” said Johnson. “To be absolutely clear, I think face covers have real value in confined spaces and I think the public understands this. ”
Mask requirements could help the government get the country back on track after the severe recession – in March and April alone, the British economy shrank by 25%. Many economists believe unemployment could more than double to more than 3 million this year, levels last seen in the 1980s.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the London Ambulance Service, Johnson said that people “should start thinking about going back to work” if their employers had made their workplace safe from coronavirus.
Pressed on whether masks should be mandatory, Johnson replied, “We will look at the advice. We will say a little more in the coming days. ”
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In France, restaurants, schools and many businesses reopened a few weeks ago. While the use of masks and social distancing were relatively widespread during the strict period of home confinement of the country and initially after its end, many French people have since returned to normal – give up the masks, resume kissing the cheeks and gather in crowded cafes.
As scientists were divided over the use of the mask at the start of the pandemic, new knowledge about the virus changed the game.
“A number of new studies and systematic reviews have convinced most researchers and public health officials that they should be worn, including those who were skeptical a few months ago. Growing evidence of potential airborne transmission is adding facial covers to the case, ”said Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh. “It is not enough to suggest that there are ‘good ways’ to wear one. ”
On the streets of Paris, many – but not all – welcomed the idea of requiring masks.
The French government “should have made it compulsory indoors immediately” as in neighboring Spain and Italy, said Paulo Lorenzo, 50, who says he usually wears a mask when he leaves home. “Now it’s going to be a bit complicated. ”
However, Tiago Rodriguez, 23, believes that wearing a mask should be a personal choice. “We shouldn’t be forced to wear something if we don’t feel comfortable with it or have trouble breathing,” he said.