14th April 2020 – The Earlier Use Of Face Masks would Probably Have Saved More Lives.

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

14th April 2020

More on Face Masks


It is satisfying today to see that there is some movement in the UK towards accepting the protective value of face mask use by everybody in public spaces in the UK. We firstly raised this issue on the 3rd April in the blog Unmasking the Myths and followed up on the 9th of April with Face Mask Ditheringarguing strongly and rationally in favour of their use.

Now, just yesterday Sir Patrick Vallance at the No 10 briefing conceded that masks are probably of benefit in preventing transmission by individuals with no or mild symptoms in the outside world and that resultantly the government will review its stance and guidance.

Now we also have David Nabarro the WHO’s special envoy on coronavirus also admitting to the beneficial effects of face masks in reducing transmission, contrary to the original WHO recommendation that face mask wearing should be left up to individual countries.

Now that there is some half-hearted acceptance that this virus is different from anything encountered before and that new measures are needed, we may have turned a corner on recommendations to use a mask.  We have to say though how terribly slowly we seem to have moved to this position and the time that has been wasted which could have been better used in reducing the transmission rate through mask use.

We posit that if compulsory face mask use had been implemented much earlier on, that is as soon as the infection had been detected in the UK (and not just the UK, looking towards our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic), hundreds possibly even thousands of lives would have been saved by the reduced transmission rate this would have resulted in. What we do know for sure is that this advice was delayed because individuals in positions of authority in the UK and elsewhere, stubbornly refused to accept the possible benefits of face mask use and consequently we are where we are now.

Moving Far Too Slowly Towards Face Mask Use

Unbelievably we are still not there, there is still dithering, debate and bluster over this issue from the UK government as they re-examine the evidence and in the meanwhile transmission continues in situations where the arbitary two meter separation rule is inadequate as in shops, on public transport or whenever anyone in a public place who is a carrier or has mild symptoms from the virus sneezes, coughs or even speaks loudly creating a spray of droplets that travel more than the arbitrarily set two meter separation.

Such infectious spray would be stopped by the simplest of masks. We cringe in particular when we see in television news items, our courageous police force confront people in parks and other public places speaking directly to them without any face mask protection either for themselves or for members of the public they are confronting. It would make sense that the first people to be seen wearing masks in public should be police officers on public duties followed by everybody else in rapid sucession.

Let’s therefore begin to see all our public servants leading the way in setting an example of face mask use in public spaces as a starting point to public education about this. It is frankly quite mad that this isn’t already being done and continued failure to do so is something we will continue to pay the price for in human lives as the epidemic rumbles on at a pace that could have been reduced through the use of a simple face mask by all.

It’s now a five days since we attempted to start a petition calling for the mandatory use of face masks and also calling for their free supply to the public on the government petition website but just this afternoon it was rejected because another similar petition was already running. Please sign the existing petition set up by Dr Wei Shi at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/304397 if you feel able.

However, the wheels of petitions take time to filter their message through to central government and with this particular issue, time is something we certainly haven’t got. Let’s hope now that the message gets through to the UK government and they take some affirmative action immediately to help save more lives through the use of a simple paper face mask.

There’s still time, the onus is on our government to do the right thing to save lives that will otherwise be lost.

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