FMQs: Wales being “too cautious, too slow” on mandatory face mask use

Face mask debate continues

In the continued debate over the compulsory use of face masks in crowded public places, Adam Price MS (Plaid, Carms. E. & Dinefwr) cited evidence that alongside England and Scotland, 60% of the world’s countries require mask-wearing. Also, research from the University of Washington suggests that the use of face masks could save up to 20,000 lives in the UK.

“Your careful approach, in terms of the easing of restrictions, has served well in many ways, but you now….risk treading the line between being too cautious and being too slow on this issue. Why is Wales lagging behind when so many other countries have acted so decisively?”
– Adam Price MS

In a detailed answer, the First Minister made several points in defence on the decision, as of yet, not to introduce face masks. Firstly, the rate of new infections is now very low, even zero, in most of Wales without the use of face masks.

Secondly, unlike England, a 2-metre social distancing requirement is compulsory for retailers in Wales and, finally, mandating the use of face masks could have unintended consequences:

“Our Chief Medical Officer’s advice has not changed: (masks) have a marginal utility but they also have identifiable downsides. Some people behave more riskily because they are wearing a face covering. Some people can’t wear face coverings: people with lung conditions, people with asthmatic conditions. Some people are disadvantaged when others wear face coverings: the visually impaired, people relying on lip-reading. And, once it’s compulsory, it will have to be enforced.”
– First Minister, Mark Drakeford (Lab, Cardiff West)

He added that the situation would remain under review and the advice is that face masks/coverings should be used if a 2-metre distance can’t be maintained (i.e. public transport) or if someone simply feels more comfortable/secure wearing a mask in public.

Call for extra support for the hospitality sector

Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS (Con, Preseli Pembs.), noted progress in containing the virus in Wales and with restrictions easing on the hospitality sector over the coming weeks, it was time to consider what additional support was needed.

“….the gradual reopening of the hospitality sector provides further opportunities for people to socially interact outside their households. I recently met with local hospitality businesses to discuss the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and the Welsh Government’s regulations, and the message was clear: this year, most hospitality businesses are simply focusing on survival. Therefore, as restrictions continue to ease, it’ll be crucial that we maximise the amount of spending locally, and I sincerely hope that the Welsh Government is refocusing its procurement practices to help our businesses recover.”
– Leader of the Opposition, Paul Davies MS

Without giving a specific figure, the First Minister said “tens of millions of pounds” has been given to the tourism and hospitality sectors above any support they also received from the UK Government.

Many people have already been spending more money locally due to guidance to “stay local” – which was recently lifted. He agreed that many businesses were now in “survival mode”, but that survival to date has only been possible because people stayed local.

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