Scientists remain divided over the effectiveness of the masks in providing protection against the Covid-19 virus following indications by Boris Johnson that he would soon make face cover mandatory in stores in England.
Some experienced researchers have stated Observer that they strongly supported the decision as part of the government’s campaign to encourage people to return to work. Others were less certain that it would be effective.
Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary health care science at the University of Oxford, told the Observer that she thought the move was long overdue. “We are facing a massive public health emergency and unless we start to wear face covers as a routine, thousands and thousands more will die.”
“And just look at the countries that have successfully introduced masks,” she added. “Their death rates are minimal, while they are skyrocketing in countries where people don’t wear face masks.”
However, epidemiologist Antonio Lazzarino of University College London said that the evidence supporting the effectiveness of face covers remains extremely weak. “My concern is that the masks are an excuse to facilitate locking to help the economy. However, this could well happen at the expense of people’s health, ”he said.
“For example, we don’t know if it is safer to respect 1 meter of social distance with masks than 2 meters without. If masks bring people together, they can be dangerous. “
Wearing masks is protecting others, said Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol. “At least some transmission of the Covid-19 virus occurs when droplets from coughing and sneezing pass through the space between you and someone else nearby. Wearing face covers in overcrowded places will reduce the likelihood of this happening, ”he said.
“However, most masks protect the wearer much less effectively against inhaling droplets, and no mask will stop you from infecting yourself with your hands. In fact, if you spend a lot of time touching and adjusting your mask and your hands are contaminated, it could even increase your risk of self-infection. “
Professor Susan Michie, director of the Center for Behavior Change at University College London, also supported measures to make face coverings compulsory in stores: “Masks should be mandatory, as this indicates that this is really important.”
However, Michie – who is also a member of Sage’s Behavioral Sciences Advisory Group – stressed that a public awareness campaign on masks should also be launched and should be supported by people in positions of influence – like MPs.
“Sitting in the House of Commons with a lot of people from different households where the 2 meter distance doesn’t always happen and where ventilation is probably not good – is this a high risk situation?” Yes it is. Therefore, they should wear face masks. “
Until last week, Boris Johnson had not been seen wearing a face mask in public, while his chancellor Rishi Sunak was criticized for not having worn it during a photo session where he served food at a restaurant in central London last week.
And a peer also said last week that a minister told him he would make fun of him if he wore a mask during a parliamentary debate. Viscount Trenchard said that when he declared his intention to speak in the House of Lords with a mask, “a noble friend who is a minister told me that I would be exposed to ridicule”.
Lord Trenchard told Observer that he believed that Britain had not fully accepted the wearing of masks as a normal thing to do. “If ministers were seen in public wearing masks, it would send a good signal,” he added.
Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia also highlighted the need for a strong public health campaign to support the use of masks. “People need to know what mask models and materials are appropriate, how to wear them properly, how long they should wear them and how they should be safely disposed of or washed ready for reuse,” he said. .
However, if it is mandatory to wear masks in stores, this raises the question of whether they should be mandatory in other contexts such as bars and pubs where the risk of transmission is likely to be even higher than in stores, added Hunter. “The problem is that face covers cannot be used safely in establishments where people go to eat and drink,” he said. “The constant need to always move your face to take a sip of beer could be a risk. “
Professor Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Center for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, said that although there may be an initial reluctance to wear masks in public places in England, evidence suggested that people used to cover their faces. “Opinions are changing rapidly on face masks. In Italy, adoption increased from around 20% to 84% in three weeks. And then it went up to 99%. It happens quickly, ”she said.
More than 120 countries are now making it mandatory to wear the mask in public places, she added. “Scotland got it,” she said. “England is always exceptional. “