HOSPITALS are bringing back face masks as Covid cases climb again.
At least eight major NHS trusts have reinstated the rule ahead of what medics fear will be a bumpy winter.
Official figures show virus cases are on the rise, with a 14 per cent increase last week to a total of one million across the UK.
NHS England’s mask requirement was dropped in June as part of ministers’ “Living with Covid” plans.
But hospitals and clinics can now make their own decisions – with some already bringing back face coverings.
Great Western Hospitals in Swindon told MailOnline it had returned to mask-wearing “due to recent increases in the number of patients needing treatment for Covid.”
Also now requiring masks are NHS trusts in East Lancashire, Rotherham, Hampshire, East Suffolk and North Essex, Barnsley, King’s Lynn in Norfolk, and Gloucestershire.
Giles Thorpe, chief nurse at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust, said: “We appreciate face masks are no longer required in many areas of our day to day lives, but our hospitals are not the same as a supermarket or a restaurant.
“Many of our patients are already extremely unwell and could be at higher risk of serious illness if they pick up Covid-19.”
NHS statistics show the number of Covid patients in England shot up by half in just seven days last week to nearly 1,000 per day, marking the start of an autumn wave.
The Coronavirus Act expired earlier this year meaning there is no law that can force the public to wear masks.
But hospitals have the power to set their own rules to protect patients.
Official NHS guidance remains that staff must wear masks at work.
Visitors and patients do not have to cover up unless they are in high-risk areas like cancer wards or they have Covid symptoms.
If hospitals see huge surges of the bug, bosses could be forced to limit visitors again.
Miriam Deakin, of NHS Providers, said: “Covid hasn’t gone away and is putting pressure on the NHS once again.
“The latest stats show a steep rise in infections, with more than 7,000 people in hospital and a worrying increase in the number of patients on ventilators, too.
“In areas where Covid rates are rising, NHS trust leaders are taking extra measures to protect their most vulnerable patients and staff, including asking them and visitors to wear face masks.”
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