Calls to wear masks outside UK as London market imposes rule

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London (AFP)

In an unusual sight on Tuesday, patrons shopping for cheese, fruit and bread at London’s historic open-air Borough Market all wore masks.

Located near London Bridge and popular with locals and tourists alike, the market this week became the UK’s first outdoor public place to emphasize face covering.

Masks remain optional elsewhere, despite the rapid spread of a new strain of virus that scientists say is up to 70% more contagious.

As the death toll rose to its highest in Europe, Britain stopped tightening the rule.

Meanwhile, a number of countries – including France, Italy, Poland and South Africa – have made masks mandatory or especially mandatory in high-traffic public spaces outdoors.

For a long time during the country’s first lockdown, British officials dissuaded people from wearing masks and public acceptance was low.

Some people are still hesitant to wear them even in places where it is mandatory, such as in stores or on public transport.

Police are now threatening tougher penalties, and major supermarket chains have announced security guards will prevent shoppers from entering without masks.

Borough Market was able to make masks mandatory by updating regulations that date back to Victorian times.

Stand owners and customers must wear face masks or face a fine of £ 50 ($ 68, 56 euros).

“We’ve done everything we can to make sure the market is as safe as possible,” said Kate Howell, director of market development, criticizing what she said was “the government’s less than clear direction” .

The handful of customers readily complied as they strolled through the stalls selling fresh game, seafood, or pastries.

One buyer, Patrick, a man in his fifties, said he was skeptical about the benefits of wearing masks, but would accept it to save the market.

“I think it’s very important that our market survives because it brings food that you can’t buy in supermarkets,” he said after filling up on Langres, a semi-French cheese. soft.

– Reassure customers –

Graham Teale, the owner of The Turkish Deli stands under the rails at London Bridge station, said he had been wearing a mask since February and hoped making it mandatory will allay fears of patrons looking for olives and d ‘Humus.

As Christmas approached, “there were a lot of people on the streets, eating street food and drinking alcohol in large groups.

“A lot of our clients felt very uncomfortable with this and didn’t come,” he said.

The government does not currently support a change in the rules on wearing masks outdoors.

Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, nevertheless admitted in a briefing on Monday that there was a risk if people gathered outside in large numbers, giving the example of a stall of market.

“In this situation, there might be some logic to the idea of ​​wearing masks,” he said.

The main official message remains to limit the number of interactions with others, as the UK experiences some 50,000 new confirmed infections every day.

Government Minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News on Tuesday that “a small minority of people are breaking the rules and costing people their lives.”

The minister, whose record focuses on crime and the police, said the government will decide whether or not to enforce masks outdoors based on the numbers.

– Shared opinion –

Scientists are divided over the difference between wearing masks in public spaces.

“We know the risk of transmission outdoors is significantly lower than indoors,” said Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia.

Masks “don’t replace good social distancing” and also become ineffective when wet, he said.

But Julian Tang, honorary associate professor at the University of Leicester and clinical virologist, said masks have a role to play, however, particularly in winter.

“Cooler outdoor air with less sunlight will help this lipid-enveloped coronavirus to survive in aerosols,” he said.

He compared these tiny droplets suspended in the air to cigarette smoke.

“If you stand in line for the bus and someone is smoking – even if you’re standing more than two meters away, if you’re downstream of that smoke – you can still smell it. ”

For this reason, he said, “wearing a mask outside and standing in line with other people will help reduce transmission.”

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