The British government has made face masks mandatory for all hospital staff, patients and visitors from June 15, but it rejected doctors’ calls to make them compulsory in shops and other public spaces.
Hospital staff in England will have to wear surgical masks, while patients and visitors will need to use cloth masks or other face coverings, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told reporters.
Britain’s official death toll linked to the coronavirus pandemic passed 40,000 on Friday, as the Health Ministry added 357 deaths to Europe’s highest total.
Health data analysts estimate the true death toll at up to 70,000, based on seasonal excess deaths.
“I think the day that the number of deaths from coronavirus has gone over 40,000 is a time of sorrow for us all,” Hancock said.
“We’ve got to remember that each one of these [deaths] is an impact on a family that will never be the same again, and my heart goes out to them all,” he said. “And it makes me redouble my determination to deal with this virus and to get that incidence right down.”
Health experts and opposition politicians have accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government of a slow response to the crisis, and criticised Britain’s low level of testing and poor preparation for a pandemic.
On Thursday, the government ordered the use of face coverings on public transport from June 15.
The British Medical Association, a doctors’ trade union, said masks should be compulsory in “all areas where social distancing is not always possible”.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC that the government believed there was a “larger chance” of infection during a journey on public transport compared with a visit to a shop.
“I think the big difference is that in a shop you may well pass somebody … but then you are going to move on,” Shapps said. “But on public transport you could be next to somebody for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, so there is a much larger chance of being close to somebody for a longer period of time.”
The government also announced a 14-day quarantine for all international arrivals to Britain from June 8, which aviation firms have warned could bring “economic disaster”.
Willie Walsh, CEO of British Airways owner IAG, told Sky News on Friday that the company was considering a legal challenge to the quarantine rule.
Walsh said the rule would “torpedo” BA’s plans to resume flights on many routes in July.
“We think it is irrational. We think it is disproportionate and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge,” he told the broadcaster.
Britain’s reported coronavirus infection rate remains higher than most European nations.