Face coverings like scarves are enough to stop public spreading coronavirus, say scientists – The Sun
Scientists say there is some evidence to support wearing masks in confined spaces such as on public transport, shops and in workplaces.
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But they are concerned that the findings could prompt people to buy up vital surgical masks and leave the NHS facing a shortage.
Instead, scientists are considering branding them as "face coverings" to distinguish items such as bandanas and scarves from medical masks, according to The Times.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the Government's chief scientific adviser, said last week that the UK position on masks was under review and would change if the scientific evidence warranted it.
The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which has been advising the Government throughout the pandemic, met to discuss the issue for a third time on Tuesday.
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It's understood that evidence suggesting that homemade masks could stop people spreading coronavirus droplets had swayed some of the scientists.
While there is no conclusive evidence to suggest wearing a face mask could stop people from catching the virus, it is accepted that they can block the transmission to other people.
Oxford University Professor Trish Greenhalgh, who has published evidence reviewing facemasks, said: "Your mask doesn’t protect you but it protects other people.
"A mask needs to be an item of clothing. It’s like a T-shirt, wear it and chuck it in the wash. Detergent kills Covid."
The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) now recommends "wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain".
It said these rules apply "especially in areas of significant community-based transmission" such as New York City.
But ministers are said to be weighing up fears that masks could give people a false sense of security and result in the public ignoring social distancing measures.
Their biggest concern remains the shortage of adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers on the front line.
The Government has said any change in advice could be dangerous for the health service.
Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said they attached "prime importance on never jeopardising the supplies of PPE to our health and social care workers," but added that the evidence was kept under review.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "On the use of facemasks, we are advised by the science, and … we listen to what the scientists say."
Weigh it up
NHS leaders have urged ministers not to recommend masks unless there was "clear evidence" that the benefits in slowing the epidemic outweighed the risk of frontline shortages.
Chris Hopson, chief exec of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, 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.
"Fluid repellent masks for health and care staff are key to safety and to avoid the spread of coronavirus.
"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."
What are the different types of face mask and how well do they work?
From dust masks to homemade coverings with cloth, there are a variety of protection methods popping up as people look for ways to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Here we take a look at some of the different types of face mask and how well they work…
N95 masks are disposable face masks that are proven to filter the air to an industrial standard.
Manufacturers vary, but the N95 is a stamp from the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to show that it is efficient.
The 'N' stands for 'Not resistant to oil,' because the mask only protects against particles, not fluids while the '95' means it filters out 95 per cent of airborne particles.
They generally have an 8-hour shelf life before becoming clogged depending on the work you're doing.
As they offer so much protection, they are used by doctors and nurses in a medical setting.
However, they have not been recommended for use to the general public yet due to supply issues for health workers.
These disposable 3-ply masks are fluid-resistant are the most common type of facial protection you'll see health care staff wearing.
They are used to prevent infected droplets from doctors, nurses and carers entering the respiratory system of the patient.
Although they don't have built-in air filters, they are considered effective enough for most staff outside of intensive care.
The nose clip can be bent to fit snugly around the nose however they are a loose fit and the material gapes at the sides so they don't protect against all particles.
When they become wet, their effectiveness is also reduced.
Also, they are disposable and are only intended to be worn once.
DIY dust masks (FFP)
Found in most hardware stores, dust masks can offer some level of protection from particles – if worn correctly.
If it says FFP1 then it’s a basic kind of dust mask and offers the lowest level of filtration for this kind of respirators mask.
To meet European standards, they have to be able to filter at least 80 per cent of particles – with FFP 3 filtering 99 per cent.
That means that it can’t filter out tiny particles associated with viruses and bacteria.
You can also get a FFP3 mask, which looks similar but has a small filter in the middle to catch almost all airborne particles.
Short of being a full gas mask it offers the best protection – as long as it fits properly – and is more effective than an N95 as well as the FFP1 and FFP2.
These are generally worn by cyclists to prevent them from breathing in pollution in heavy traffic.
Usually made from neoprene, they fit tightly to the face and are intended to offer a level of protection from airborne particles.
Some are also marketed as N95, or N99 grade, which means the amount of filtered airborne particles is either 95 or 99 per cent.
As many people can't get their hands on a mask, some have turned to fashioning their own.
There have been tips on using vacuum cleaner bags and even sanitary towels to cover your face.
While most won't be as effective as anything you can buy in a store, they will offer more protection than not covering your face at all.
Research by Public Health England in 2013 looked at the suitability of household materials that could be used as maks to filter bacterial and viral aerosols and found vacuum bags actually worked well.
Experts say that you should aim for multiple layers – a double layer of tightly-woven cotton with a thread count of at least 180 was one of the best barriers, according to researchers in the US.
Even a bandana, scarf or T-shirt can be used to cover your nose and mouth while in public.
The World Health Organisation has already warned that advising widespread use of face masks would divert critical resources away from overstretched health services.
But it is understood the WHO is gearing up to issue fresh guidance on wearing them in shops, on public transport and in other crowded spaces as part of measures to help begin to ease lockdowns.
Dr David Nabarro, the organisation's special envoy for Covid-19, has said people would need to become accustomed to a "new reality" where masks are common in the wake of the pandemic.
He told the BBC: "Some form of facial protection, I'm sure, is going to become the norm, not least to give people reassurance.
"But, I would say, don't imagine that you can do what you like when you are wearing a mask."
Not as effective
Researchers from the ECDC have suggested that homemade masks may not be effective and up to 90 per cent of particles can make their way through the fabric.
The EU agency says there is no evidence that non-medical face masks or other face covers provide effective protection for the wearer of the mask and have been shown to have "very low" filter efficiency.
However, a study published in Nature Medicine in early April suggested surgical masks could help prevent infected people from making others sick with seasonal viruses, including coronaviruses.
In addition, Jeremy Howard, a University of San Francisco research scientist and founder of the #Masks4All campaign, led a review panel with 18 other experts from around the globe and found "substantial evidence in favour of widespread mask use to reduce community transmission".
Mr Howard cited the WHO's assistant director-general David Heymann's comment that masks were equally or more effective in combating the spread of Covid-19 than social distancing, and said the situation in Taiwan provided further proof.
He told ITV's Peston programme: "Regardless of how you look at it, it looks like there's an extra 1,500 deaths a week (in the UK) due to this disease.
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"The entire country of Taiwan has five deaths. Now here's an example of a great country that is distributing masks to everybody."
People living in the US are being told to wear cloth face masks when they go out.
In China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan, the wide assumption is that anyone could be a carrier of the virus, so the advice is for everyone to wear a mask.
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