Face mask guidance to be withdrawn from healthcare settings after WHO says no longer a global health emergency

Official Scottish Government guidance on wearing face masks in healthcare settings is set to be withdrawn on May 16.

The mandate was first brought in in Scotland in June 2020.

As Covid restrictions eased, so did the requirement to wear face masks in retail, hospitality and public transport settings.

The latest easing of guidance comes less than two weeks after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid-19 pandemic was no longer a global health emergency.

The announcement marked a symbolic end to the devastating pandemic that triggered once-unthinkable lockdowns, upended economies worldwide and killed at least seven million people worldwide.

But the move has been met with anger from BMA Scotland, who warned the illness “has not gone away”.

The WHO said that even though the emergency phase is over, the pandemic has not come to an end, noting recent spikes in cases in south-east Asia and the Middle East.

The UN health agency said that thousands of people are still dying from the virus every week.

The Scottish Government said that from May 16, the guidance to wear face masks in healthcare settings would be withdrawn and healthcare settings should then follow the infection prevention and control guidance within NHS Scotland National infection prevention and control manual.

Dr Lailah Peel, deputy chair of BMA Scotland, said: “Covid continues to exist and pose health risks, particularly to those with existing comorbidities – patients, members of staff, or visitors to healthcare settings – and some health and care workers may still prefer to wear face masks for both the safety of their patients and themselves.

“For that reason, they may also prefer others around them to continue to wear masks and that is something that should be respectfully acknowledged and considered.

“Ultimately, BMA Scotland would expect that employers respect an individual’s decision to continue wearing face masks and appropriate PPE based on their own preference and assessment of risk, and ensure it is available for them in clinical settings.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Due to the success of vaccines in protecting people and the availability of treatments, now is the right time to revise the guidance on wearing masks in health and social care settings. Unless there is a clinical need as indicated by Infection Prevention and Control guidance, staff, patients, service users and their visitors will no longer be asked to wear a face mask or face covering.

“We recognise that some staff may have concerns around the withdrawal of this guidance and would expect organisations to undertake individual occupational health assessments and risk assessments as appropriate.

“We continue to be vigilant in our response to Covid-19 and encourage everyone to make sure they are up to date with the boosters available to them. We are grateful for the tireless work of health and social care teams during these challenging times and to everyone who has helped them by adhering to the guidance.”

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