Fit and healthy people wearing masks could make them more at risk of infection, says expert

Could wearing face masks actually put you more at risk of infection? (Getty)

While wearing masks could help reduce the spread of coronavirus, there is some risk that fit and healthy people could find themselves at greater risk of infection by wearing them, a medic has warned.

Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said it would make sense to advise the public to wear masks on a voluntary basis to reduce the chance of the spread of coronavirus.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there is a risk that fit and healthy people could be increasing their chance of infection by wearing a mask that encourages them to touch their face.

His comments come as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) was expected to discuss the usage of masks in a meeting on Thursday.

“There’s no research evidence to support wearing masks if you are basically fit and well,” said Prof Marshall.

“Indeed if people wear masks there’s a risk they play around with it, they play with their eyes more and maybe you’re even at a higher risk of picking up an infection.

“However it is common sense that if they are coughing and spluttering then it makes complete sense to wear masks in order to protect other people.”

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He went on: “I think the guidance that we’re expecting to hear is that the wearing of face masks is a voluntary activity not mandated and it certainly makes a lot of sense to focus limited resources that we have at the moment on those who have greatest need and that’s the health professionals.

“This sophisticated kit is likely to be more rigorous, more useful, but actually it’s perfectly reasonable to wear a bandanna around your mouth or whatever, that will work, it won’t be quite as good but it will be good enough.”

Also on Thursday morning, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said no new decision had been made on wearing masks ahead of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Sage is meeting today but we haven’t yet had that advice as ministers yet.

“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and prejudge what will come out of Sage just yet. There’s no change at the moment.”

On Wednesday, health secretary Matt Hancock said he “can’t promise” that everyone across the UK will be given free protective masks if scientific advice dictates that they should be worn.

Hancock was responding to a question in the Commons from Labour former minister Hilary Benn, who asked whether members of the public would be expected to source their own masks if they are required to wear them in certain situations by government guidance.

The health secretary responded: “We’ll follow the advice, we’ll listen to what the Sage advisory group says on masks and then we will implement that.

“I can’t promise that we will give everybody free masks, I mean that would be an extraordinary undertaking, and we do have to make sure that we have supplies available especially for health and social care staff, where the scientific advice throughout has been that the wearing of masks is necessary in those circumstances and we’ve got to make sure the provision is there for them.”

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