Europe

Face masks to become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from next week

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wears a face mask during a visit to the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust. Source: AFP

People in England will soon have to wear face coverings inside shops to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Face masks will become mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England from next week, the British Government said on Tuesday.

The announcement follows comments by cabinet minister Michael Gove on Sunday that masks should not be made mandatory, contradicting indications from the prime minister last week.

"The Prime Minister has been clear that people should be wearing face coverings in shops and we will make this mandatory from July 24," said a statement from Boris Johnson's Downing Street office.

"There is growing evidence that wearing a face covering in an enclosed space helps protect individuals and those around them from coronavirus," it added.

Face masks have been mandatory on public transport in England since 15 June, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock will formally extend that to shops and supermarkets on Tuesday, said Downing Street. 

Those who fail to wear a mask could face a fine of up to $123 AUD with enforcement to be carried out by the police. 

Fears of second virus wave in UK

Meanwhile, scientists have warned a second coronavirus wave in Britain this winter could see 120,000 deaths in hospitals alone in a "reasonable worst-case scenario".

The Academy of Medical Sciences report, commissioned by the government's chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance, urged immediate action to mitigate a second wave.

With hospitals also battling seasonal flu cases, a second wave could eclipse the current outbreak resulting in up to 120,000 deaths between September and June next year.

Nurses treat coronavirus patients at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey.
New modelling predicts up to 120,000 more deaths in the UK from coronavirus if no action is taken.
AAP

The modelling does not include deaths in care homes or the wider community, and assumes no government action to prevent a fresh surge in cases.

Britain has seen almost 45,000 deaths so far in the first wave - the highest toll in Europe and third only to the United States and Brazil.

The latest predictions are based on an assumption that the R rate - which measures how many people an infected person is expected to infect - rises to 1.7 from September.

The scientists also modelled for a lower increased R rate of 1.5, which would lead to 74,800 deaths.

Police officers outside St Thomas' Hospital where British PM Boris Johnson is in intensive care
Police officers outside St Thomas' Hospital where British PM Boris Johnson was in intensive care.
AAP

The R rate is currently between 0.7 to 0.9 across the whole country, according to the latest government figure published last Friday.

Stephen Holgate, who led the study Academy of Medical Sciences study, said the 120,000 figure was "not a prediction but it is a possibility".

"The modelling suggests that deaths could be higher with a new wave of COVID-19 this winter, but the risk of this happening could be reduced if we take action immediately."

The report calls for "intense preparation" this month and next to prevent the country's state-run National Health Service (NHS) from being overwhelmed.

That includes work to minimise community transmission, a public information campaign and ensuring enough protective equipment for frontline medical and social care staff.

The government has been criticised for an initially relaxed response to the outbreak.

Critics said a national lockdown should have been imposed earlier and contact tracing maintained, while there have also been questions about testing capacity.

Stay-at-home restrictions are now being eased in a bid to kickstart the country's stalled economy but there remains concern about rising numbers of cases in some areas.

Mr Johnson said last Friday he was in favour of localised responses to outbreaks rather than again having to order the whole country to be shut down.

Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. People are also advised to wear masks in public.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

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