As the government’s scientific advisers discuss whether the public should be urged to wear masks, what is the evidence about how useful they are? Why doesn’t everyone wear a mask now?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that only two groups of people should wear protective masks, those who are:
- sick and showing symptoms
- caring for people suspected to have coronavirus
It says medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.
Masks are not recommended for the general public because:
- they can be contaminated by other people’s coughs and sneezes, or when putting them on or removing them
- frequent hand-washing and social distancing are more effective
- they might offer a false sense of security
How might things change? The UK government is not currently advising most people to wear masks. However, its chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance confirmed the issue was under review, and the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) is set to make recommendations to ministers.
At the weekend, a group of more than 100 UK doctors wrote an open letter to The Times saying they were “alarmed at official inaction over the need for the public to wear homemade face masks”, which could be made by volunteer groups. They said it was “illogical” to advise people to wear masks if they are showing symptoms, but not if they appear symptom-free (Source: The Times 21/4)