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All hospital staff, outpatients and visitors must wear face coverings from June 15, Matt Hancock has announced.
The health secretary said those who work in hospital are more likely to catch coronavirus and so all NHS England staff will need to wear type one or two surgical masks at all times.
It comes after the government made face coverings compulsory on public transport from June 15 as part of efforts to keep the epidemic at the lower levels achieved by the lockdown.
He told the daily Downing Street briefing: “As the NHS reopens right across the country it’s critically important to stop the spread between staff, patients and visitors too.
“So today we are setting out that all hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings.
“One of the things that we have learnt is that those in hospital, those who are working in hospital, are more likely to catch coronavirus whether they work in a clinical setting or not.
“And so to offer even greater protection we are also providing new guidance for NHS staff in England, which will come into force again on June 15, and all hospital staff will be required to wear type one or two surgical masks.”
He added: “We’re upgrading this guidance to make sure that even as the virus comes under control [...] our hospitals are a place of care and safety.”
Hancock meanwhile contradicted modelling from Public Health England and Cambridge University which suggested the infection, or R, rate of Covid-19 had climbed to one or above in the north-west (1.01) and south-west (1), meaning that the epidemic is likely to grow in those areas.
He insisted the government’s own scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) said R was below one in all regions, meaning the epidemic will shrink, and urged people to consider the infection rate “in the round”.
The health secretary, who was unusually appearing without government scientists or medics, said: “You’re right that the R is closer to one in the south-west and in the north-west. The advice from Sage is that R is below one in all regions.
“However, we want to increasingly have an approach in tackling local lockdowns where we spot a flare-up.
“We’ve been doing this over the last few weeks – for instance, there was a flare-up in Weston-super-Mare which we successfully got under control.”
Hancock also said the R rate was not different in health and social care settings compared with the wider population.
He said the introduction of face coverings was designed to “cut out” infections originating in hospitals.
“In terms of the R rate, of course there is a higher incidence of new cases among health staff and social care staff – that has shown up in all of the studies.
“But that is not rising as a proportion and that implies that there isn’t a different R, so to speak, in health and social care.
“But the measures that you take in the NHS and in social care are different, hence we have a whole package of work to bear down on the disease in social care, and at the same time a huge package of work that’s being undertaken by the NHS in order to get the transmission of coronavirus in hospitals right down.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.