Posted: Mon 17th Aug 2020

‘Triggers’ for use of face coverings to be published as advisory group suggests preparing population in advance of any requirement

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Monday, Aug 17th, 2020

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The First Minister has said his government will set out the ‘trigger’ points that would mean face masks would be mandatory in certain settings.

However Mark Drakeford has stressed Wales is not at that point yet.

New information will be made public following advice published by the Technical Advisory Cell / Group last week which details the latest thinking on masks and face coverings.

The Technical Advisory Cell (TAC) an advisory group set up to provide ‘official sensitive’ advice to Welsh ministers it interprets UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) outputs into a Welsh context.

The groups advice document suggests work needs to take place to ‘prepare people’ and communicate when and where face coverings should be worn, and at what points such moves would be necessary.

The latest TAC release (PDF here) is titled “Updated Advice on Face Coverings” and updates Welsh Government on the latest research and recommendations.

It references updated information on aerosol transmission published by the World Health Organisation.

The document details how coronavirus could be passed: “Aerosol transmission can occur when small respiratory aerosols (<10 µm diameter) containing the virus remain in the air and can be inhaled by another person.

“This is most likely to happen at close range (within 2 metres) though there is a small amount of evidence that this could happen in an indoor environment more than 2m from an infected person.”

The document notes, “cloth face coverings are likely to have some benefit in reducing the risk of aerosol transmission”, and “Face shields/visors are unlikely to be an effective control for aerosol transmission”.

It appears there was some support for an England / Scotland style mask use in shops: “Some members of TAC are supportive of mandating face coverings in indoor settings (such as shops) as a precautionary measure and to mitigate a perceived relaxation of social distancing and increased mixing of the public, as well as avoidance of asymptomatic transmission.”

Such a split message was also discussed, “There is a risk that differences between four nations approach to face coverings will lead to confusion and mixed messaging with the public.

“However, it is recognised that policy decisions are complex, as is the scientific evidence related to face coverings.”

A section titled “recommendations” notes “asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is now known to occur. That means people without any symptoms are potentially infectious to others.

For this reason, “it is advisable that face coverings should be worn in indoor settings in addition to good ventilation, social distancing and hand hygiene to interrupt transmission.”

Wearing of face-coverings will be particularly important in indoor environments with poor ventilation or when large numbers of people congregate in order to reduce the risk of super spreading events.” The TAC document states. 

The advice does note there would be exceptions needed, likely to include children under 11 years old, those with certain physical and mental health conditions and key settings such as schools and restaurants.

A list of different settings where face coverings or masks could be mandated is given, including:

  • Public transport (already mandatory)
  • Travelling in a car with someone from a different household
  • Further and Higher education settings
  • Healthcare settings (Locally we have seen masks requested for use by those entering local health board sites)
  • In pubs and restaurants, provided you are not at your table
  • For certain high contact professions, such as market stall operator, waiter, taxi driver etc
  • In shops, stores and shopping centres
  • In cinemas, theatres, concert halls, conference halls, auditoriums, museums, libraries, casinos and arcades

On Friday we had an opportunity to ask First Minister Mark Drakeford questions, so asked about the recent TAC document and face coverings.

This weekend has seen England mandate that hairdressers and beauticians should wear type II face masks instead of just visors, and we asked if that would be happening in Wales, and if any of the ‘recommendations’ in the TAC document would be taken forward as policy in Wales.

The First Minister explained: “The TAC summary says is that we need a set of triggers in Wales that would tell us whether we are moving into a phase where the more widespread use of face coverings in Wales will be either recommended or mandatory.

“We are working on those triggers. I’m hoping we’ll be in a position soon to make them public.

“So if the number of cases per hundred thousand rose to a certain level, or if the positivity rate rose to a certain level, then the advice on wearing face coverings in the sort of settings identified in that paper would be triggered.

“We’re not at that point in Wales, our positivity rate has fallen again this week, the number of cases has fallen in the second half of the week, not growing.

“I am keen that there is a clear understanding with people, the Welsh Government is not against wearing of face coverings when the circumstances for wearing them are justified.

“The advice we’ve had is, we’re not in that position, other than in certain limited settings as on buses and trains.

“We will set out the triggers that would lead us to a different conclusion in the context of that TAC paper.”

“We will look to see the new advice in England in relation to hairdressers and barbers, but we’ve had them open in Wales now for a number of weeks, and there is no sign that I have seen that we have outbreaks that are associated with those settings.

“So the safeguards we’ve already got in place appear to be successful so far.”

The TAC document refers to work around ‘public engagement’ on when and where face coverings should be worn in Wales with the aim of helping support compliance and avoid conflict as the TAC says ‘has been observed elsewhere’, and to ‘prepare people’. The ‘public facing’ document appears that piece of work could be the soon to be public information the First Minster was referencing.

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