Higher grade face mask requirements considered in Scotland

The Scottish Government is “actively exploring” the possibility of stricter rules around face coverings, Deputy First Minister John Swinney has said.

Health care assistant Paula Kirlew (right) and Nurse Helen Abbatt (left) prepare the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for doctors to administer.
Health care assistant Paula Kirlew (right) and Nurse Helen Abbatt (left) prepare the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for doctors to administer.

It comes after nursing leaders called for the UK government to carry out an urgent review of whether standard surgical masks offer enough protection against more virulent strains of Covid-19.

Asked if requirements could be introduced for higher grade face masks to be worn in public areas such as shops, Mr Swinney told Politics Scotland on Sunday that the issue is being “looked at”.

“Some public authorities have already started to apply such measures within Scotland,” he said.

"We’ve got to make sure that we take the most effective measures to suppress the virus, to be advised about the clinical value of particular steps to take, that’s always been the basis of the decisions that we have arrived at as a government.

"The question about the higher grade face covering is one that’s being actively explored within government today.”

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Asked why the requirement has not already been introduced, Mr Swinney said there are already a “range of different measures in place” in Scotland, and pointed to a reduction in case numbers in recent weeks.

"We are making progress on the measures that we have in place. We will continue to look at what else might be possible to continue that progress and to make sure that we’re effective in all the actions that we take,” he said.

It comes after the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association wrote to the UK Government calling for a review of infection control guidance and for all NHS staff to be given higher grade protection pending the outcome.

Labour Health spokesperson Monica Lennon said it was “good to hear” Mr Swinney discuss the issue, adding that she wrote to the Scottish Government in December asking for a “precautionary approach” to new and emerging variants.

"Greater protection is overdue,” she said.

It comes after UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance warned on Friday that while there is a “lot of uncertainty” around the data and more study would be needed, the new strain of Covid-19 present in the UK could be more deadly.

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