MPs have been urged to wear masks during the Chancellor’s Budget speech by a Covid-19 expert from the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Dr David Nabarro, the WHO’s special envoy for Covid-19, said that “everybody” should be wearing masks in close confinement with other people, “including our leaders”.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid has already committed to wearing a mask in the Commons when it is packed on Budget day.
But Mr Javid said on Monday that wearing a mask in the crowded chamber is a “personal decision” for ministers and backbenchers.
Asked whether MPs should wear masks during the Budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Dr Nabarro told Sky News: “This virus, it is absolutely unstoppable, it gets everywhere, and so we have to do everything we possibly can to stop it.
“And one of the best ways to stop it is a well-fitting surgical mask properly over your face, pushed in over your nose, covering everything, and that reduces the risk to others and the risk to you.
“If it works, why on earth don’t people use it?
“It’s not a party political issue – this virus doesn’t vote.
“And indeed, there’s no difference in how you deal with the virus when you vote for this party or that party.
“So everybody, wear masks when you are in close confinement, it’s the right, sensible, proper thing to do, and everybody should be doing it, including our leaders.”
Asked about the issue, Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), told Sky News: “Well, the vaccines do a lot of the heavy lifting, but they can’t do everything, so social distancing, mask wearing in crowded spaces and being sensible is all part of what we ought to be doing as a society.”
On general mask use, Professor Lucy Chappell, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, told the Commons Science and Technology Committee: “I share the view that we should all be wearing face coverings where we can in trains and tubes and crowded spaces where it makes sense and is already part of the recommendations.”
Meanwhile Dr Nabarro urged wealthy countries to give spare jabs to the vaccine-sharing facility Covax or defer shipments where possible.
He said: “We have a global scheme, we set it up, it’s working really well, it’s just absolutely dry in terms of vaccines.
“So if any country has spares, give them to Covax, the world distribution system, and give them early – don’t give them three weeks or four weeks before they expire because it creates incredible problems.
“Secondly, just defer – if you don’t receive your vaccines for two months and let those supplies go to poor countries and then start receiving them again, it’s not going to cause big problems – it may postpone booster run out very slightly.
“But we just can’t go on having rich countries creaming off the vaccine supply and stocking it in their own vaults and then poor countries just have people dying.”
But Prof Harnden said the UK needed to get its “house in order”.
Asked whether the UK should ramp up the booster programme or give jabs to other parts of the world, he said: “What we have to do is look after the UK first, get our house in order.
“We know that the infection rates are high at the moment and there are still people going into the hospital so we need to do that before we donate vaccines,
“But of course, we’re going to be donating also vaccines anyway, so I think I think ‘both’ is the answer.”