17th April 2020 – An Open Letter Appeal to the Government Over Mask Use.

A Blog by Dr David J Flavell PhD FRCPath & Dr Sopsamorn (Bee) Flavell BSc PhD
Scientific Directors of Leukaemia Busters

17th April 2020

An Open Letter to the UK Government and Its Scientific & Medical Advisers

Below is an open letter written today to the government and its scientific/medical advisers appealing for them to re-examine the use of face masks as a means to reduce the danger of a resurgence of COVID-19 when lockdown is eased in the weeks ahead.

A version of this letter has now gone directly to the following individuals:

  • The Prime Minister Boris Johnson
  • The Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock
  • The First Secretary of State Dominic Raab
  • Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty
  • Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance
  • Medical Director of Public Health England Professor Yvonne Doyle
  • Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer
  • The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
  • The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham

Dear Minister/COVID-19 Government Adviser

We write to you as independent cancer immunologists at Leukaemia Busters based at Southampton General Hospital about our deep concerns over the failure of the UK government to recognise the benefits of using simple surgical masks to attenuate SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the community.

We have produced a series of blogs on this and other COVID-19 related issues, (see the Leukaemia Busters blog  on Coronavirus) that are intended for general public consumption to bring some clarity and understanding to a complex area for the non-specialist.

To reduce further community transmission of the COVID-19 virus once lockdown has been eased and individuals begin to return to their normal lives, face mask use in public places will become an important factor. Whilst the evidence is perhaps currently weak that face masks are of benefit in reducing transmission levels in respiratory infections they most certainly are not non-existent, there being several studies demonstrating this.

As stated eloquently in the Feng et al (2020) Lancet  article “there is a distinction between absence of evidence and evidence of absence” in the context of face mask use in respiratory disease epidemics. Put simply the stakes are so high in the current situation that there is little to lose but potentially a great deal to gain for relatively little cost by recommending mandatory face mask use in public spaces.

There is now at least a three week window to organise the manufacture/acquisition of a large stockpile of simple face masks and their distribution to members of the public for use once lockdown eases and sufficient time to educate the public in their proper use. The UK government may judge it necessary to organise the re-purposing of a factory facility(s) to meet the volume of masks required but we feel certain that there will be appropriate manufacturing organisation(s) willing to step up to the plate on this, just as some did over oxygen delivery device (CPAP) manufacture for use in hospital intensive care units.

If the UK government wishes to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 once lockdown is eased then it MUST look at ALL possible methods available to reduce the transmission rate to an R value that is below 1. If this is not achieved because of a re-establishment of infection transmission via droplet infection in the community, as was occurring before the first lockdown (particularly in enclosed spaces such as on public transport and in some work places such as offices, shops and restaurants etc), then we shall be set on a dangerous course towards a resurgence and second lockdown with all the health, psychological and economic implications that will bring with it.

The cost and logistics of face mask manufacture and distribution for general use would be a very small price to pay weighed up against this alternative outcome.

Thank you for your attention. We, together with many other concerned British people look forward to seeing some action on this vital issue as quickly as possible before the opportunity is lost.

Yours sincerely

Dr David J Flavell BSc PhD FRCPath                Dr Sopsamorn U Flavell BSc PhD

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