Should we be wearing masks and do they work?

Scientists and politicians are discussing whether people in the UK should be wearing face masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus.

– What is the UK advice on face masks?

It is currently not compulsory to wear a mask or face covering but the Government has said it is continuing to monitor the situation.

Public Health England (PHE) recommends masks for NHS staff and social care workers but does not suggest other people wear them outside.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called for a change in advice to add “another layer of protection” to members of the public against Covid-19.

Coronavirus – Sun Apr 12, 2020
A man wearing a mask walks past coronavirus-related graffiti in Edinburgh (Andrew Milligan/PA)

He has previously said: “In those circumstances where we can’t keep our social distance, we can’t keep two metres apart, think about when you’re using public transport and you really have to, or you’re in a shop and you can’t keep two metres apart.

“Wearing a non-medical facial covering makes it less likely you may inadvertently give somebody else Covid-19.”

– Will the advice change?

Scientists are expected to discuss the usage of masks in a meeting on Thursday.

A top doctor has said it would make sense to advise the public to wear coverings on a voluntary basis and expects the Government to alter its guidance.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

The chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Professor Martin Marshall said: “If [people] are coughing and spluttering then it makes complete sense to wear masks in order to protect other people.”

He told the BBC’s Today Programme: “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.”

– Are there enough masks for key workers and the general public? 

NHS bosses have urged the Government to make sure that there are enough masks for medical staff before making any compulsory orders for the public.

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, asked ministers to “fully assess” the potential impact on healthcare supplies.

Given the pressures on PPE and the importance of fluid repellent masks, Government really must be sure of the benefits of advising the public to wear masks before jeopardising NHS mask supply. Our latest press quote just issued. pic.twitter.com/zykHikqPCf

— Chris Hopson (@ChrisCEOHopson) April 20, 2020

In a statement on Monday, he said: “Fluid repellent masks for health and care staff are key to safety and to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

“Securing the supply of masks, when there is huge global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration for Government.

“There needs to be clear evidence that wearing masks, along with other measures, will deliver significant enough benefits to take us out of lockdown to potentially jeopardise NHS mask supply.”

– Will I be given a mask if they are made compulsory? 

The Government has said it “can’t promise” everybody will be given a mask for free if the public are forced to wear them.

Matt Hancock was asked the question by former Labour minister Hilary Benn in the House of Commons, and replied: “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.”

– Can I make my own mask? 

Masks can be made from cloth materials found at home, or items that can be wrapped around the face such as a scarf.

Coronavirus – Thu Apr 16, 2020
A stall holder in a protective face mask in Brixton Market in south London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary healthcare at the University of Oxford, told a Royal Society of Medicine web briefing: “How do you make your own mask? You take two pieces of cotton, or a piece of cotton folded over, and you take a pantyliner or something like that [with] waterproof backing, you stick it between those.

“And then you hook it around the back of your ears.”

– Do homemade masks work for doctors?

European researchers have suggested cloth masks may not be effective for healthcare settings.

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 (eg scarves) are proposed as a last-resort interim solution by the US CDC until availability of standard PPE is restored.”

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