Britons will ‘NOT be told to wear face masks in public – but are free to cover their faces with scarves to stop spread of coronavirus’
- Government’s most senior scientists met on Tuesday to discuss facemasks
- They ‘will ask Britons to wear masks or DIY face coverings when in public’
- Covering mouth and nose can stop asymptomatic carriers passing virus on
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
Published: 19:53 EDT, 22 April 2020 | Updated: 05:15 EDT, 23 April 2020
Britons are set to be told it is not compulsory to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus – but will be advised to wear DIY face coverings at work, in shops and on public transport.
The government’s top scientific experts have been reviewing key evidence and are will report back to ministers today, with new guidance issued to the public at the weekend.
SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) are believed to be backing advice on wearing a cloth face mask, such as a homemade mask or scarf if socially distancing is not possible.
This will mean asking people to cover their nose and mouth when they go to the shops and travel on trains, but won’t apply to being in parks and quiet, residential streets.
But the experts are set to say it should not be compulsory, rather left up to the public on when they should wear them.
They will also warn against the use of medical masks, because it will mean there could be less for NHS. Experts on all sides have repeatedly stressed that surgical facemasks should be reserved for frontline staff so health service supplies are not compromised.
SAGE will also be guided by the World Health Organisation, who have held off saying masks should be worn to prevent the spread. Other evidence suggests a person wearing a mask could feel like they are sufficiently protected, so will tend to ignore social distancing rules.
Passengers on the Jubilee line wear face masks. Britons are set to be told it is not compulsory to wear masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus
People are pictured wearing facemasks and scarves to cover their nose and mouth in south London yesterday
How to make your own coronavirus mask: Scientists are encouraging people to make their own facemasks from T-shirts, sanitary towels or vacuum cleaner bags – with methods shown here
A Whitehall source told The Sun: ‘No decision is going to be made which would take medical masks away from the NHS. Everybody is very clear on that.
‘If you actually have symptoms you need to isolate, full stop. A cloth mask is not a replacement for staying at home and nobody should think otherwise.’
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government will ‘follow the advice and listen to what SAGE says on masks and implement that.’
THE TRUTH ABOUT FACE MASKS: WHAT STUDIES HAVE SHOWN
Research on how well various types of masks and face coverings varies but, recently, and in light of the pandemic of COVID-19, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing.
A review of scientific literature by the University of East Anglia found the masks have a ‘small protective effect’ that could shield elderly and vulnerable people from contracting the virus in crowded places.
The researchers advise they people wear one on public transport, at the supermarket or in hospitals.
But they say the evidence is not strong enough to recommend widespread use of masks in the general population.
A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.
It’s too early for their to be reliable data on how well they prevent infection with COVID-19, but the study found the thinner, cheaper masks do work in flu outbreaks.
The difference between surgical or face masks and N95 masks lies in the size of particles that can – and more importantly, can’t – get though the materials.
N95 respirators are made of thick, tightly woven and molded material that fits tightly over the face and can stop 95 percent of all airborne particles, while surgical masks are thinner, fit more loosely, and more porous.
This makes surgical masks much more comfortable to breathe and work in, but less effective at stopping small particles from entering your mouth and nose.
Droplets of saliva and mucous from coughs and sneezes are very small, and viral particles themselves are particularly tiny – in fact, they’re about 20-times smaller than bacteria.
For this reason, a JAMA study published this month still contended that people without symptoms should not wear surgical masks, because there is not proof the gear will protect them from infection – although they may keep people who are coughing and sneezing from infecting others.
But the Oxford analysis of past studies- which has not yet been peer reviewed – found that surgical masks were worth wearing and didn’t provide statistically less protection than N95 for health care workers around flu patients.
However, any face mask is only as good as other health and hygiene practices. Experts universally agree that there’s simply no replacement for thorough, frequent hand-washing for preventing disease transmission.
Some think the masks may also help to ‘train’ people not to touch their faces, while others argue that the unfamiliar garment will just make people do it more, actually raising infection risks.
If the CDC does instruct Americans to wear masks, it could create a second issue: Hospitals already face shortages of masks and other PPE.
No10 have refused to comment ‘on what SAGE’s advice to ministers is’.
Chief executive of NHS Providers Chris Hopson said the government must asses the impact on the NHS if they advise on wearing masks.
He said: ‘Securing the supply of masks, when there is huge global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration.
‘If the Government is going to consider advising the general public to wear facemasks it must fully assess the impact on the NHS.’
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has previously said it should be ‘compulsory’ for people to wear masks on public transport in the capital and has been lobbying for the rules to change.
The next review of lockdown measures will take place on May 7, when Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty warned ministers face ‘difficult trade offs’.
The new guidance may apply to those allowed to go back to work if measures are eased in the next few weeks, according to the newspaper.
At yesterday’s Downing Street press conference, Professor Whitty warned social distancing measures would likely be in place for the rest of 2020.
He said they cannot be lifted until either a vaccine for coronavirus or ‘highly effective’ drugs to treat the disease become available.
Professor Whitty did not specify whether the strict ‘stay at home’ policy which is currently in place would have to be in place for the remainder of the year.
Other experts have suggested that some of the strictest measures, including school closures, could be eased as long as there was not a spike in virus cases.
But Professor Whitty was very clear that the only real exit from the lockdown – to allow a full return to normal life – would involve a medical breakthrough.
He said: ‘This disease is not going to be eradicated. It is not going to disappear.
‘So we have to accept we are working with a disease that is going to be with us globally – this is a global problem – for the foreseeable future.
‘We have to be very realistic that if people are hoping its suddenly going to move from lockdown to suddenly everything’s gone, that is a wholly unrealistic expectation.
‘In the long run, the exit from this is going to be one of two things, ideally.
‘A vaccine, and there are a variety of ways they can be deployed or, and or, highly effective drugs so that people stop dying of this disease even if they catch it, or which can prevent this disease in vulnerable people.
‘Until we have those, and the probability of having those any time in the next calendar year are incredibly small and I think we should be realistic about that.
‘We’re going to have to rely on other social measures, which of course are very socially disruptive as everyone is finding at the moment.
‘But until that point, that is what we will have to do but it will be the best combination that maximises the outlooks but it’s going to take a long time and I think we need to be aware of that.’
Yesterday primary healthcare expert Professor Trish Greenhalgh told a Royal Scoeity of medicine briefing that coronavirus could be ‘wiped out’ in the UK if ’80 to 90 per cent’ of the population wear some kind of facemask.
She told a web briefing for the Royal Society of Medicine: ‘If 80 to 90% of us do it, and if the masks were say 80-90% effective, that would probably – the modellers say – be enough to reduce the effective R0 down to wipe out this disease and we can all get on with our lives,’ she said.
R0 refers to the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person.
She said that she wasn’t in favour of the compulsory use of masks but said that she thought many people would be supportive of the use of homemade ones for a temporary measure.
‘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.
‘I’m not the kind of person that wants the Government, knocking on my door, you know, as if they’re issuing gas masks or something like that and telling me I’ve got to wear it. I would much prefer this to be a voluntary thing for 80-90% of the population saying ‘I’ve got no particular reason why I shouldn’t wear one of these’.’
There would be exceptions such as people with facial allergies, those who object for other reasons and children under two.
She added: ‘This is a terrible, terrible disease, and anything we can do to stamp it out is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.’
But she added medical grade masks must be reserved for frontline workers.
Meanwhile, a new initiative was launched to encourage the public to make their own face masks.
The campaign, www.Maskedheroes.uk , also aims to connect people who make masks to individuals and organisations in their community who need them.
A separate initiative – Masks for Heroes – is encouraging businesses which use personal protective equipment (PPE) to check whether they have any supplies which can be donated to frontline services while their businesses are not up and running.
SHOULD WE BE WEARING MASKS AND DO THEY WORK?
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.
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.
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.
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.’
Are they effective?
According to European scientists there is no evidence that non-medical standard face masks or other covers offer protection to wearers.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says that a non-medical mask has a filter efficiency of between two and 38%.
However, the World Health Organisation recommends face mask use during pandemics to reduce transmission from asymptomatic people.
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.
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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