Professor Sian Griffiths, who led the Hong Kong government’s investigation into the Sars epidemic in 2003, said Britain should take the same approach as the United States, where people are invited to make their own “cloth face covers” and wear them in public spaces.
Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of health care in primary care at the University of Oxford who recently completed a study on face masks, also advocated the use of masks in public and suggested that an old T-shirt combined with kitchen paper would suffice.
US policy is led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is designed to reduce at least some of the virus’s transmission while preventing leakage of the medical-grade masks needed by front-line health workers.
“The CDC’s advice in the United States is pragmatic,” said Griffiths. “It recognizes both the need to ensure the supply of masks for clinical situations where they are manifestly necessary at the same time as recognizing that there could be advantages in wearing” masks “in public to avoid transmitting the infection. “
The government’s science emergency advisory group (SAGE) met on Tuesday to examine evidence of the use of masks. The Guardian understands that the group is divided on the best policy to adopt because the evidence is so weak.
Ministers are deeply reluctant to recommend the use of even homemade masks as people rush to buy medical masks and leave the NHS in the face of even greater shortages.
Asked about possible changes to the face mask advice, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said at daily press conference No. 10 that the ministers would be “guided by science as always.”
Public Health England recommends face masks for the NHS and in social care settings, but does not advise healthy people to wear them outdoors. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines state that while masks can help prevent people from transmitting the coronavirus, they alone are not adequate protection against the risk of contracting it.
Greenhalgh, on the back of a review of face masks, said home-made versions could significantly reduce the amount of droplets sprayed from people’s mouths, which can transmit the virus if the person is infected.
“We should cover our faces with home spun materials like cotton. Medical grade masks are irritating and uncomfortable. Your old T-shirt is soft and nice, and with a few layers of absorbent paper inside a double layer, it will reduce the droplets coming out of your mouth and nose by about 95%, ”he said. she declared.
She added, “The public must not and must not divert medical-grade supplies.”
The government is increasingly concerned about the government’s reluctance to recommend the use of masks. Doctors across the UK have now supported the Masks4AllUK movement, which argues that people should wear homemade masks when they go out.
At a press conference on Friday, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said that even if Sage would examine the evidence, it was “absolutely crucial” that masks be available in hospitals and other areas of the city. high risk transmission.
Chris Hopson, managing director of NHS Providers, which represents healthcare trusts across England, said the impact on the NHS needs to be fully assessed. “Water-repellent masks for health and care workers are essential for safety and to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.
“Securing the supply of masks, in the event of high global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration for the government. There needs to be clear evidence that wearing masks, combined with other measures, will provide enough benefits to break us out of the lockdown and potentially jeopardize the supply of NHS masks. “
Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who chairs an independent advisory group to the WHO emergency program that is managing the Covid-19 pandemic, said that wearing face masks was intended to prevent the carrier to spread the virus. if they were infected themselves.
“Masks should not be worn by the general public to protect themselves because there is evidence that masks do not prevent infection from other respiratory infections such as the flu,” he said.
“The best way for the general public to support government policy is to understand how to protect themselves and others if they are sick or think they may be infected. It is through physical remoteness, social remoteness and frequent hand washing. “