Another Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) scandal? During the first wave of Coronavirus infections the problem was an inadequate and disorganised supply of PPE for healthcare and social care staff.
An important additional problem has been the slow response by government in recommending the use of face coverings by the public. Other countries issued earlier and more comprehensive face coverings recommendations.
The 25th August issue of the British Medical Journal reports on a new PPE scandal (MPs take legal action over PPE contracts). The government approved £15bn for procuring PPE since the start of the pandemic, but details of only £2.68bn of the spending have been made public. This means that the government is in breach of legal regulations requiring the publication of all contract details within 30 days. Three MPs (Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, Lib Dem MP Layla Moran) and the Good Law Project have launched a legal action against the government over what they say is a “persistent and unlawful” failure to disclose how huge sums of money have been spent.
A separate article in the same issue of the British Medical Journal argues that we urgently need to do more to prevent the transmission of infection in households, as this accounts for a high proportion of the infection cases.
Government guidelines state that anybody with a suspected or confirmed Coronavirus infection should stay away from other family members as much as possible: ideally in a separate bedroom with a shut door and using a separate bathroom. However, what is missing in the UK guidelines is the emphasis on both the symptomatic individuals and their family members wearing face coverings when they need to be in the same room, ideally for the shortest possible time. Both the US CDC and WHO recommend the use of face coverings in these circumstances.
Transmission of infection in household settings has played a major role in towns like Oldham with many crowded and multigenerational households. The number of new infections is rising again. Government guidelines should not neglect strategies that might reduce household transmission
As for the use of face masks in the community, our government has clearly been both reluctant and slow in making recommendations: this may be to reflect the desire to appease libertarian anti-face-mask members of the Conservative Party.
Even just a few days ago Boris Johnson said: “We don’t want to see face-masks in the classroom, either worn by teachers or by pupils”. This is nonsense. Whilst most pupils are at extremely low risk of severe Coronavirus infection, this is not the case for some vulnerable pupils or for adult staff. In other countries the use of face coverings in the classroom is permissible and it does not interfere with either teaching or learning.
In lockdown areas the use of face masks in classrooms may even need to be recommended, as this is a better alternative to closing schools. School outbreaks have occurred in various countries, especially in secondary schools.