What is the UK advice on face masks?

People around the world are regularly wearing face masks following the coronavirus outbreak.

Do they help stop the spread of Covid-19 and what is the advice for people in the UK?


What is the UK advice on face masks?

It is not compulsory to wear a mask and the Government has said it is continuing to monitor the situation.

On Monday Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government’s chief scientific adviser, said: “The evidence on masks is much more persuasive for masks stopping you giving it to somebody than it is for you preventing you catching it.

“We have a review ongoing at the moment on the evidence around masks.

“If that review concludes that the position should change, we will of course make that recommendation and if it stays the same we will make that clear as well.”

HEALTH Coronavirus
Coronavirus cases in Europe (PA Graphics)

Public Health England (PHE) has emphasised the importance of masks for doctors but has not suggested widespread public usage.

It said last week: “Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings.”

Speaking at the daily press conference on Friday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock referred to PHE advice and said the Government will “follow the science” on masks.


What has the World Health Organisation (WHO) said about masks? 

The WHO has said that “wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19.”

However, it said that a mask on its own is not enough to protect you from the virus and other measures such as handwashing should also be used.

Its Covid-19 envoy has said that people would need to become accustomed to a “new reality” where masks are common.

A man wearing a mask walks past coronavirus-related graffiti in Edinburgh
A man wearing a mask walks past coronavirus-related graffiti in Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Dr David Nabarro, told the BBC: “Some form of facial protection, I’m sure, is going to become the norm, not least to give people reassurance.

“But, I would say, don’t imagine that you can do what you like when you are wearing a mask.”

What are other countries’ rules on masks?

All Americans are being told to wear cloth face masks when they go out.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain”.

They say these rules apply “especially in areas of significant community-based transmission” such as New York City.

Growing evidence suggests #COVID19 can spread before people show symptoms (pre-symptomatic) and from people who have #coronavirus but never show symptoms (asymptomatic). Cloth face coverings help prevent spread of COVID-19 in these situations.See Q&A: https://t.co/vuYx19woY6. pic.twitter.com/7uuYJfqou4

— CDC (@CDCgov) April 13, 2020

Residents in the southern French city of Nice are all being sent reusable masks.

Authorities in Lombardy, Italy’s hardest hit northern region, are also insisting that people wear masks when outside.

Where can you get them from?

Types of face masks are still widely available online including on Amazon.

Should people make their own masks?

Many people are opting to make masks at home using cloth or other materials, however, European researchers have suggested these may not be effective and up to 90% of particles can make their way through the fabric.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said rates of illness were much higher among healthcare staff using masks made out of cloth instead of surgical masks.

It said: “Altogether, common fabric cloth masks are not considered protective against respiratory viruses and their use should not be encouraged.

“In the context of severe personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages, and only if surgical masks or respirators are not available, homemade cloth masks (e.g. scarves) are proposed as a last-resort interim solution by the US CDC until availability of standard PPE is restored.”

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