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Coronavirus: Labour tells ministers to ‘get ahead of the game’ on facemasks for the public

The advice on wearing a mask in public is set to change (PA)

2 min read

Labour is calling on the Government to “get ahead of the game” on facemasks and start stockpiling them to avoid the issues seen with protective equipment for NHS workers.

It comes after Boris Johnson hinted the official guidance on wearing facial coverings in public is set to change in the coming days.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has written to her counterpart Michael Gove asking how ministers will ensure the UK has enough masks and a way of distributing them to those who need them.

A growing number of countries are advising they should be worn when outside the home and where social distancing is more difficult, such as shops and on public transport, to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Japanese government is sending free masks to 50 million households, and Ms Reeves is asking Mr Gove to confirm how many would be required if they became mandatory in the UK.

She also wanted to know what type they would be, whether ministers believe the British textiles industry has the capacity to produce enough of them, and if not, where additional masks would be procured from.

Ms Reeves said: “The Government was too slow to enter the lockdown, too slow to get vital protective equipment to NHS, social care and other key workers, and too slow on testing and tracing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

 “We need to know what the plans are to stockpile facemasks in readiness for any change in the scientific advice. 

“This is an opportunity for ministers to get ahead of the game and demonstrate they have learned from their mistakes, and we stand ready to help them to achieve that. 

“Labour is supporting the Government through this crisis when it is getting things right, and challenging it when things are going wrong. This is in all our interests to protect public health.”

Last week the Prime Minister signalled the Government would be making a U-turn on wearing masks, after other ministers spent weeks refusing to recommend the use of them or other cloth coverings during the pandemic.

He told the Downing Street press briefing official guidance was forthcoming, saying: "I do think face coverings will be useful.”

Mr Johnson added: "What I think Sage [the government's scientific advisory group] is saying, what I certainly agree with, is that as part of coming out of the lockdown, I do think face coverings will be useful.

"Both for epidemiological reasons but, also, for giving people confidence that they can go back to work.

"You're going to be hearing more about that and that kind of thing next week."

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