Hospitals bring back mandatory face masks as COVID cases rocket

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CARDIFF, WALES - DECEMBER 27: A general view of the accident and emergency department of the University Hospital of Wales on December 27, 2020 in Cardiff, Wales. An urgent appeal for specialist help caring for coronavirus patients has been made by the health board running Wales' largest hospital - the University Hospital of Wales. Cardiff and Vale health board, which runs University Hospital of Wales, put out a plea for assistance in its critical care department on Boxing Day. Welsh Government data shows it ran out of intensive care beds on 20 December. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Cardiff and Vale health board, which runs University Hospital of Wales, has made masks mandatory. (Getty)

A Welsh health board has made wearing face masks mandatory again as COVID infections continued to soar.

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board announced on Monday that staff and visitors to its ten hospitals had to wear a face-covering unless they had an exemption.

It said it made the decision due to the rise of coronavirus infections in communities and became the second Welsh health authority to reintroduce mandatory masks after Hywel Dda University Health Board.

Infections in all four nations of the UK are rising, with levels in England and Wales back to where they were in late April.

Read more: In pretending that Covid is over, the UK government is playing a dangerous game

Mature woman wearing face mask arriving at hospital talking to the receptionist. Receptionists and people wearing face mask in hospital.
The Welsh health board said it required face masks and social distancing from staff and visitors. (Getty)

Cardiff and Vale University Health Board said in a statement: “Due to a continuing rise in the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities, healthcare staff and visitors are now required to wear a face covering in all our settings unless exempt.

“Please follow this guidance to help us reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our patients, workforce and services.

“In addition to wearing a face covering, it is important to continue to maintain social distancing where possible.”

A total of 2.3 million people in private households in the UK had COVID in the week to 24 June, up 32% from a week earlier, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The number of people in hospital in England who have tested positive for the virus has climbed above 10,000 for the first time since April, reaching 10,658 on 4 July, up 36% week-on-week.

This is around two-thirds of the peak of 16,600 patients seen during the Omicron BA.2 wave.

Watch: COVID: Wales to lift last remaining coronavirus rule

In Wales, 575 patients with COVID-19 were recorded on 30 June, up 53% from the previous week.

On Friday, the ONS recorded that infections in Northern Ireland have increased to an estimated 71,000 people, or one in 25 – up from 59,900, or one in 30.

Official guidance in Wales states face masks are no longer mandatory but are strongly recommended in healthcare settings.

In England, face coverings are also no longer required by law but the government suggests people wear them in crowded and enclosed spaces and when they come into contact with someone in the high-risk COVID category.

It adds masks are recommended in public when there is a high rate of COVID infections and during a time when respiratory viruses are circulating, such as in winter.

Scottish authorities “strongly recommend” people over 12 continue wearing face coverings in indoor public places and on public transport.

Read more: Sats suggest Covid disruption affecting primary school attainment in England

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2022/06/25: An ambulance seen in King's Cross, offering covid-19 testing and 'fit to fly' certificates. (Photo by Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
COVID infections are surging in the UK. (Getty)

Despite the rising infections, COVID-19 deaths in England, Wales and Scotland remain at a low level.

In England and Wales there were 285 deaths registered in the week to 24 June where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is broadly unchanged on the previous two weeks, and is well below the 1,125 deaths registered in the peak week of the Omicron BA.2 wave of infections earlier in the year.

In Scotland, the number of deaths attributed to COVID following a positive test result has decreased to 43%, latest figures show.

The impact of the current surge in infections is not likely to become clear in the figures for a few more weeks due to the time it takes for someone with the virus to become seriously ill.

The latest wave is being driven by the newer variants Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, which are more transmissible than other strains and are able to evade the immune protection built up by vaccines or previous infections.

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