6th June 2020 – Now that the WHO guidance on face mask use in public has widened, the British government MUST now take further action.

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

6th June 2020

Compulsory Face Mask Use – A Partial Victory

When the British government announced on Thursday that face coverings were to be made compulsory on public transport from the 15th June we were delighted that at long last a positive move was being made for something we had been shouting about for months. Little could the government have known that the World Health Organization (WHO) would the very next day change its advice and announce a new recommendation that face masks should be used in additional public settings that go beyond just public transport. You can view the new WHO interim recommendations on face mask use by the public posted on the 5th June 2020 by clicking here.

We and many others have been shouting loudly about compulsory face mask use in public places and the workplace for months, arguing that they would contribute significantly to reducing the transmission rate of COVID-19 in the community and help prevent another devastating second peak of infection. The new WHO recommendation now gives full credibility to our argument and a solid platform on which we can continue to make our case in the strongest possible terms to the UK government.

Better Late than Never!

After their initial time wasting deliberations over face mask use in the community, the British government finally shifted their position from that which they held in March, when they dismissed face masks as being of little, if any value, in reducing COVID-19 transmission rates, to the position they have suddenly shifted to on Thursday where they have now made face coverings mandatory from the 15th June on public transport and English hospitals and clinics.

But the Mandatory Ruling has to go Further

However, at this point in time the government requirement is still only for face “coverings” to be used on public transport and in hospitals but not in wider community settings such as shops, restaurants, schools, the workplace or out of doors generally. This is in our opinion insufficient and fails to deal with transmission of the virus in these settings whilst also failing to take into account the fact that infectious droplets from asymptomatic individuals carrying the COVID-19 virus can travel for 8 metres or more making the current 2 metre social distancing rule totally inadequate.

The brand new WHO advice on face mask use that emerged yesterday means that there has been a fundamental rethink based on recent good scientific evidence that we have continuously pointed out already exists for influenza epidemics. The new WHO recommendation means that the UK government should be forced to extend the mandatory use of face “coverings” more generally in the community.

Face Covering Standardisation is Important

At present the government are not making any provision to supply some form of face mask to the general population but instead leaving it up to individual citizens to devise their own facial covering. This will mean a complete lack of standardisation and therefore an uncertain value to the multitude of face coverings that different people will come up with, some that will surely be ineffective or at worse dangerous. Yet we, with our meager resources, identified weeks ago, a supplier of high quality reusable/washable masks which we then imported in limited numbers and began distributing for free to anyone who requested one while our stocks last (see our blog Mask Up! for further details). These masks are fit for purpose and far superior to any home made variety of face covering. We therefore ask the pointed question, if we are able to do this then why can’t the government?   

The UK government do publish information on their website on how to construct a fabric face mask  but we ask the question how many people will effectively follow this advice? Furthermore a simple cotton covering with a low thread count as suggested by the government will not be as effective as a mask constructed with three different layers of accredited fabric materials that are known to effectively prevent the escape of infectious droplets from the wearer. We say far better that the government make provision for the entire UK population to receive a free high quality minimum three layer reusable/washable face mask thus standardising and making the face mask weapon against the coronavirus much more reliable and effective in fighting the battle.

Eliminating COVID-19 from our nation is in everybody’s interest and will put us back on the road to normality and prevent ruination of our economy and way of life. A second wave of infection would be disastrous even if the track and trace system proves effective it will still mean further hardships and local lock downs on future occassions.

Whilst our little coronavirus blog and particularly our campaign for face mask use falls outside of the remit of Leukaemia Busters usual work, these are unprecedented times and because COVID-19 has brought our research work (and many others) to a grinding halt we feel that it is justified to make what little contribution we can to help resolve the health crisis.

Facemasks4free Campaign

That is why today we announce that Leukaemia Busters will be starting a dedicated fund that will allow us to provide a free high quality four layer face mask to every resident in Southampton and possibly beyond. It will be a mighty challenge for us and we may not succeed fully in this ambition but we are at least attempting to fill a big gaping hole left by the government, a gap that we feel once closed will make a significant difference in our fight against COVID-19 in Britain.

Watch this space for further information on progress with this campaign. If you think you or your organisation can help please make contact with us by emailing contact@leukaemiabusters.org.uk and use the wording “Help Offered” in the subject heading.

Thank you for following our blogs and for your support during these extremely difficult times for all of us. 

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