Covid: Wearing a mask is effective at preventing infection, study finds

·2-min read
People wearing protective face masks walking in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire (PA Wire)
People wearing protective face masks walking in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire (PA Wire)

Wearing a face mask is among the most effective public health measures at tackling Covid, according to a global study.

The research, first published in the British Medical Journal, found that face coverings can reduce incidences of infection by up to 53 per cent.

Scientists at Monash University in Australia and the University of Edinburgh found that donning a mask is even more effective than social distancing, which reduced the spread of infection by just 25 per cent.

The researchers analysed results from more than 30 studies around the world as part of the study. They concluded that while vaccination offers significant protection, other mitigation strategies should be used to keep infections low.

The figure on masks came from a meta-analysis of eight studies chosen by researchers. They stressed that further randomised trials would be required to affirm the data.

They write: “Globally, vaccination programmes have proved to be safe and effective and save lives.

“Until herd immunity to Covid-19 is reached, regardless of the already proven high vaccination rates, public health preventive strategies are likely to remain as first choice measures in disease prevention, particularly in places with a low uptake of Covid-19 vaccination.”

They added: “This systematic review and meta analysis suggests that several personal protective and social measures, including handwashing, mask wearing, and physical distancing are associated with reductions in the incidence of Covid-19.”

It also notes that is it not yet known whether vaccines will prevent future transmission of emerging Covid variants.

The researchers stressed that other measures – such as lockdown, travel quarantine and the closure of schools – would need further analysis to determine their efficiency at preventing infection.

Rules on mask wearing differ across the world. In England, face masks are compulsory on transport services in London and in healthcare environments but do not need to be worn in busy indoor or hospitality settings.

However, they remain mandatory in much of Western Europe, including France and Spain. In Scotland, masks must be worn in shops, restaurants and while on public transport.

Boris Johnson was criticised earlier this month after being photographed without a face mask during a hospital visit.

Defending his actions, he told Sky News: “We know that wearing a face mask reduces the risk, we know that maintaining physical distance reduces the risk, we know that hygiene by regular handwashing and coughing into your elbow reduces the risk.

“We should do it all and we should not rely on any one intervention like vaccination on its own.”

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