Our message on face masks has reached Parliament – 3rd June 2020

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

3rd June 2020

Mask Up Matt!

Yesterday, thanks to Romsey and Southampton North MP, Caroline Nokes, the tenet for our continued argument on mandatory face mask use was put as a question to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock in The House at Westminster . You can watch the video clip of this below.

On 20th May we sent specially constructed reusable/washable face masks to each member of the Cabinet, Shadow Cabinet and Health Select Committee (see our blog Facing Up to Westminster) with a clear message on the benefits of face mask use in the community to reduce transmission rates of COVID-19 particularly by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic super-spreaders who are unaware that they are infected.

Make it compulsory

The ambition of our little campaign is to persuade the government to not just to recommend face mask use in the community but to make it compulsory, backed up with a ready public supply of reusable/washable masks that can be manufactured quickly and reliably within a short space of time.  We have done some of the footwork for the government by identifying at least one manufacturer in Thailand and there will surely be others that includes the real possibility of commercial domestic production at scale.

We said all this almost two months ago but as far as we know the government have done nothing but have in the meanwhile shifted their position from that in early March where they stated there would be no benefit from mask use to the position today where they recommend mask use on public transport and other close quarters community situations.

So here we are now with lockdown being eased which on the admission of chief scientific adviser to the government, Professor Jonathan van Tam is a very dangerous moment, meaning that transmission rates in the community could rise once again giving rise to a second peak of infections and death.

Time for action

This being the case we should be using every means at our disposal to prevent transmission and one of those means would be the use of face masks to reduce transmission in the community. The government have said in the past that the evidence for face masks reducing transmission is weak but they are wrong as they have been about so many things during this pandemic.

What is weak is the government’s lack of action on making face mask use compulsory, what are they afraid of? It is clearly obvious now from watching people’s behavior in the great outdoors and on public transport that the majority will not voluntarily adopt a face covering and must therefore be subject to a mandatory order. In order for a face mask strategy to work in reducing infection transmission rates it is imperative that everyone adopts their use and not just the few.

Time for change

In Britain it seems there is a natural resistance to wearing a face covering in public that is possibly cultural in nature but this has to change for the sake of avoiding a second wave of COVID-19 and the prospect of facing another period of lock down.

Footnote: We were really concerned to learn that Cabinet Minister Alok Sharma had been taken ill, possibly with COVID-19, whilst speaking in the Houses of Parliament today. We should know soon if it is COVID-19 he has contracted and if so this would have profound implications for safety in the workplace of our parliamentarians. We all know about the confusion and disagreement there has been over social distancing and other systems in place to protect our MP’s whilst doing their job at Westminster and if Mr Sharma has acquired COVID-19 whilst working on our behalf at Westminster and in Whitehall it is telling of the inadequacy of the safeguards that are currently in place there. This has important ramifications for every workplace in the country as people return to work. We would argue that the use of a simple face mask would have reduced this risk further and perhaps Mr Sharma would not have fallen ill. We wish him a complication-free and speedy recovery from whatever is the cause of his illness.


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