Coronavirus: Should everyone in the UK wear face masks to stop virus spread?

Joe Gamp
·Contributor, Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
A woman wearing a face mask as a precautionary measure against Covi-19,=m=, walks a dog to get her exercise in Battersea Park in London on March 28, 2020, as life continues in Britain during the novel coronavirus pandemic. - The two men leading Britain's fight against the coronavirus -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Health Secretary Matt Hancock -- both announced Friday they had tested positive for COVID-19, as infection rates accelerated and daily death rate rose sharply. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Authorities in the UK say it is not necessary to make the wearing of face masks compulsory for all residents. (PA)

The official advice to the British public is that there is no need for everyone to wear a face mask to slow the spread of coronavirus.

It comes after health professionals, political leaders and the World Health Organization (WHO) said people do not need to use protective face masks to shield them against COVID-19.

However, the US government is formalising new guidance to recommend that many Americans wear face coverings, while the WHO is also said to be reconsidering its stance on the general public wearing masks.

Public Health England maintain masks should be worn by people who are sick or caring for those that have contracted the virus.

Screen grab of Health Secretary Matt Hancock who has tested positive for coronavirus, answering questions from the media via a video link during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)
The health secretary says scientific guidance shows there is little evidence that face masks should be worn by all in the UK. (Getty Images)

Health secretary Matt Hancock said he has not been advised to change the UK’s approach on the public wearing of coverings.

He maintained the masks would be better saved for healthcare workers and those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

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Hancock told Good Morning Britain: “I haven’t been advised that we should do that. I’ll follow the scientific advice on that, which was very clear when we went through it at the start.

“Masks are very important to protect healthcare workers who might have a lot of incoming virus but [ the public being advised to wear face masks] isn’t something that we’ve done here because we’ve followed the advice and we’ve followed the medical and scientific advice and the whole basis of our response has been making sure that we follow the science.”

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Scotland’s national clinical director also said face masks will not help the general public fend off coronavirus.

According to Professor Jason Leitch, surgical masks can be useful to stop the spread of the disease through droplets if worn by those who have contracted or for healthcare workers dealing with people showing symptoms of COVID-19.

People wearing face masks and gloves in Regents Street in London the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on people to stay away from pubs, clubs and theatres, work from home if possible and avoid all non-essential contacts and travel in order to reduce the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Various UK healthcare professionals say face masks are not effective against all types of virus. (Getty Images)

He said there was no evidence to support claims the masks will stop people from contracting the disease.

Leitch told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “The global evidence – and we’ve looked properly, I promise you – is that masks in the general population don’t work.

Read more: Coronavirus: Six residents die at Liverpool care home after contracting COVID-19

“People don’t wear them properly, they’re hard, they’re difficult, they’re uncomfortable. Masks are not fun – particularly the very high end masks.”

Backing up the comments, Ian Jones - a Professor of virology, at the University of Reading - said:
“What confuses people about mask use is whether it provides absolute protection; does it stop all viruses?

“The answer to that, for most masks, is no. But if you ask if it stops some viruses, the answer is yes.

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“If an aerosol droplet hits the weave of the mask fabric rather than the hole it is clearly arrested. And lessening the aerosol dose chips away at the R0 and helps to slow the epidemic.

“If approved masks can be sourced there is clearly a case for making them widely available - how about at cost through the Boots tie-up just announced?

“They are not a cure but they address the longer flatter epidemic curve everyone is trying to achieve.”

Read more: Coronavirus: UK death toll rises by 684 in biggest daily increase yet to 3,605

Meanwhile, in the US, recommendations are expected to apply to those who live in areas hardest-hit by community transmission of the virus.

Two elderly women wearing protective face masks walk in Westminster, London as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Two elderly women wearing protective face masks walk in Westminster, London as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Medical-grade masks are being reserved for those in the country dealing directly with infected people.

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Donald Trump indicated on Thursday that he would support such a recommendation, saying: “If people wanted to wear them, they can.”

Under the previous guidance, only the sick or those at high risk of complications from the respiratory illness were advised to wear masks.

 Visitors to the theatre district wear face masks as a precaution against the spread of Coronavirus at the Times Square. Amid the COVID19 (coronavirus) concerns and a ban on groups of 500 of people, a directive issued by New York State Andrew Cuomo, all of Broadway performances have been closed until April 12, 2020. President Charlotte St. Martin of the Broadway League issued statement stating that Broadway is committed to enrich and foster enrichment and to inspire all the while entertain its visitors. Additionally, the league is committed to protect all those who work in the industry. (Photo by John Lamparski / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
The US government is said to be considering recommendations that face masks are should be worn by many Americans. (AP)

However, director-general of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC) George Gao said it was a “big mistake” that compulsory face covering measures were not being enforced in the US and Europe.

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Gao told Science magazine: “This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role – you've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth.

“Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.”

Other countries around the world are making it compulsory for citizens to wear masks.

In Europe, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Bosnia-Herzegovina have introduced strict measures, while residents in the Philippines are ordered to wear a mask while out in public.

In Japan, the government plans to post two gauze masks to each of the country’s 50 million households.

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