Return of the MASKS: Now health chiefs say face coverings should be brought back


Unwell adults should stay at home and wear a mask if they have to go outside, health chiefs said today amid warnings the NHS is facing more pressure than it did during the peak of the pandemic.

The advice, issued by the UK Health Security Agency, also urges parents to keep their child out of school or nursery if they are ill and have a high temperature — classed as 38C or more.

The actions will help minimise the spread of Covid, flu and scarlet fever which are ‘circulating at high levels’ and are ‘likely’ to keep rising in the coming weeks, it said.

It comes amid stark warnings that the delays for care caused by the NHS crisis are killing 500 patients every week, with top doctors telling Britons that the situation is ‘much worse’ than the darkest days of the Covid pandemic.

Unwell adults should stay at home and wear a mask if they have to go outside, health chiefs said today amid warnings the NHS is facing more pressure than it did during the peak of the pandemic

This map shows the NHS organisations which have declared critical incidents within the last few days

This map shows the NHS organisations which have declared critical incidents within the last few days

The flu-nami has swept across the NHS in England, the latest round of health service data shows, with over 3,800 admissions for the virus on December 23. Graph shows the number of beds on wards taken up by those with flu (red) and the number of beds occupied due to the virus in critical care (blue)

The flu-nami has swept across the NHS in England, the latest round of health service data shows, with over 3,800 admissions for the virus on December 23. Graph shows the number of beds on wards taken up by those with flu (red) and the number of beds occupied due to the virus in critical care (blue) 

NHS England data today showed that an average of 63,000 staff were off work every day in the week to Christmas (red line). Around 8,000 of the absences were due to Covid (blue line)

NHS England data today showed that an average of 63,000 staff were off work every day in the week to Christmas (red line). Around 8,000 of the absences were due to Covid (blue line)

Ambulance handover delays peaked on December 19 with more than 3,000 patients forced to wait over an hour in the back of an emergency vehicle unable to be offloaded to a hospital bed

Ambulance handover delays peaked on December 19 with more than 3,000 patients forced to wait over an hour in the back of an emergency vehicle unable to be offloaded to a hospital bed

Customers — some wearing face masks — wait outside a Boots store in west London today amid fears around the 'twindemic' of Covid and flu

Customers — some wearing face masks — wait outside a Boots store in west London today amid fears around the ‘twindemic’ of Covid and flu

Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at UKHSA, said adults should ‘try to stay home when unwell’.

Those that do have to go out should ‘wear a face covering’, she said.

Sick Britons were also told not to visit healthcare setting ‘unless urgent’ and avoid vulnerable people.

Professor Hopkins said: ‘It’s important to minimise the spread of infection in schools and other education and childcare settings as much as possible.’

The ‘back-to-school advice’ also told parents to keep their child out of school or nursery if they have a high temperature.

Professor Hopkins said: ‘If your child is unwell and has a fever, they should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved.’

She also urged parents to teach youngsters good hand hygiene by practicing regular handwashing at home with soap and warm water.

Children should also be told to catch coughs and sneezes in tissues and then bin them to help stop illness from spreading, Professor Hopkins said.

The UKHSA also urged parents to ensure eligible children — which includes all primary school children, some secondary children and those aged two and three on August 31 2022 — get a flu vaccine.

Latest data shows just 48 per cent of primary school children had received a flu vaccine by November despite hospitalisation rates due to the virus remaining high.

Professor Hopkins said: ‘Flu vaccination is still available for all eligible groups and is the best protection against the virus. 

Youngsters who are ill and have a high temperature — classed as 38C or more — 'should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved', the UHSA said

Youngsters who are ill and have a high temperature — classed as 38C or more — ‘should stay home from school or nursery until they feel better and the fever has resolved’, the UHSA said

‘We have seen good uptake in older age groups but vaccination among young children remains low. 

‘Flu can be very unpleasant and in some cases can lead to more serious illness. 

‘Getting your child vaccinated protects them and others they come into contact with, and it’s still not too late.’

It comes amid warnings that the NHS is on a ‘knife edge’ and is facing its worst ever winter due to an A&E crisis that is killing hundreds of patients every week. 

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told Sky News ‘urgent action’ to ease pressure on the NHS with staff across the board warning that the current situation is ‘worse than it’s ever been’.

He said: ‘I know that people watching this will say, “well every winter you have doctors on that say that this winter is terrible, that it’s normal winter pressures”.

‘But there is a complete acceptance from all colleagues now that this is different from all previous winters — and we need urgent action now.’

He added: ‘This situation is much worse than we experienced under the Covid pandemic at its peak.

‘And so we need to think carefully about how we can manage this and I think we need some urgent actions.’

Another senior medic warned that up to 500 patients could be dying every week because of the ‘intolerable’ A&E crisis wreaking havoc on the NHS.

Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board in North Wales today joined around a dozen hospital and ambulance trusts have already declared critical incidents, meaning they can no longer provide safe levels of care. 

Latest Covid daily admission data shows nearly 1,300 people infected with the virus were hospitalised on December 19. The figure is up by a third week-on-week

Latest Covid daily admission data shows nearly 1,300 people infected with the virus were hospitalised on December 19. The figure is up by a third week-on-week

The number of people infected with Covid taking up beds in wards across England soared above 8,600 on December 21, the latest data available shows. The figure has jumped 29 per cent in a week

The number of people infected with Covid taking up beds in wards across England soared above 8,600 on December 21, the latest data available shows. The figure has jumped 29 per cent in a week

Health chiefs warn patients are waiting up to four days in A&E instead of the target four hours.

Saffron Cordery, the interim chief executive of NHS Providers, said the crisis is ‘equivalent’ to the start of the Covid pandemic. 

Professor Phil Banfield, chair of the BMA council, said: ‘The current situation in the NHS is intolerable and unsustainable, both for our patients and the hard-working staff desperately trying to keep up with incredibly high levels of demand. 

‘The BMA has repeatedly invited the Government to sit down and talk about the pressures on our health service, but their silence is deafening. 

‘It is disingenuous for the Prime Minister to talk about ‘backing the NHS’ in his New Year message, when his own Health Secretary is failing to discuss how this crisis can be fixed.’

He continued: ‘Instead of criticising frontline doctors, nurses and paramedics for wanting to be valued and given the facilities to provide treatment and care, the Government should deliver on its obligations to the public. 

‘It is just not true that the cost of resolving this mess cannot be afforded by this country. This is a political choice and patients are dying unnecessarily because of that choice. 

‘The Government must step up and take immediate action. Without intervention, waiting lists will continue to grow, patients will continue to suffer, and staff will continue to leave. 

‘The future of the NHS is balanced on a knife-edge; it is solely within Government’s gift to pull this back from the brink.’ 

 In other health news…

NEW Covid variant XBB.1.5 that is already behind one in 25 cases in the UK is a ‘wakeup call’ and could worsen the NHS crisis, experts warn

A&E crisis is killing 500 patients EVERY WEEK: Health chiefs warn of ‘worst winter on record’ as twindemic sees ‘Dickensian overcrowding’ and pressures ‘equivalent’ to the start of Covid crisis 

New Year, new you? From Penélope Cruz’s loved Mediterranean diet to the life-extending FRUIT-heavy regime and even FASTING, experts reveal three of the best, science-backed weight loss regimes

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