ALL Brits were urged to wear face masks by London Mayor Sadiq Khan yesterday — despite there not being enough for frontline carers.
His demand fuelled confusion and goes against global advice.
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And a worldwide shortage of personal protective equipment means it would be almost impossible to supply the UK’s 66million population anyway.
Mr Khan also suggested people should rely on “non-medical” masks if social distancing is not possible.
He said that could include using bandanas or scarves. He was backed by fellow Labour mayor, Liverpool’s Steve Rotherham.
But the pair’s call risked a major backlash from unions, who warn that hospital staff are facing a daily battle to find the PPE they need.
World Health Organisation official guidance says people need only to wear masks if they have Covid-19 symptoms or are caring for someone who does.
And it adds: “WHO advises rational use of medical masks to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources.”
It also warns against another of Mr Khan’s suggestions — that people reuse masks. Last night Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said they were looking at the evidence and hoped to provide clearer advice on masks next week.
He added: “At the moment we’re entirely in line with the WHO recommendations. It’s absolutely crucial that masks are available in hospitals and in other settings which are high risk of transmission.
“That’s where the evidence is very strong that they do work.”
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Countries including Austria and the Czech Republic have ordered citizens to wear face masks at work and in public spaces.
In Spain, which began to ease its lockdown last week, police and Red Cross volunteers handed out free masks at bus, rail and metro stations.
In the US, New Yorkers were ordered to wear masks in public from Wednesday — despite President Trump vowing not to wear one.
Angela Merkel has warned Germans they will have to wear masks on public transport and while shopping once the lockdown ends.
And in Lombardy, one of Italy’s worst-hit regions, people must wear them outside. The French have been told to don them on trains until summer at least.
But asked about Mr Khan’s comments, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC: “There is evidence that it could be counter-productive so I think it’s right to ask the scientists to provide guidance on it.
“If the scientists come out and say, ‘Yep this is actually what people need to do’, then we will absolutely ask people to do that. But until they do that, that isn’t the message that we’re going to be sending.”
Researcher Paul Hunter, of East Anglia University, said public transport or supermarket workers might benefit, but added the protection offered “wasn’t great”.
Professor Ben Cowling, who studied masks for the University of Hong Kong, said: “They reduce the risk, but if people spend more time in crowds then that offsets the benefit.
MUST DO IT RIGHT
By Dr Simon Clarke, microbiology expert
THE World Health Organisation is constantly reviewing the effectiveness of face masks but that doesn’t mean a policy U-turn is imminent.
There are many practical issues to consider before everyone is asked to wear a mask outside the home.
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan rightly says it would be wrong to tell the public to buy surgical masks as this would massively cut supplies available to NHS and care staff.
He suggests bandanas or other fabrics — but they can’t stop a 70mph sneeze.
Masks need changing every three to four hours but just to give everybody one mask a day means half a billion a week are needed, requiring production of 1,600 every second. We don’t have that capacity.
To be effective, we also need lessons in their proper use, such as not touching the mask’s front as you take it off and how to fit it from under the chin to the bridge of the nose.
MOST READ IN NEWS
“We need to make sure masks are an additional measure and not a replacement for other measures.”
Shaun Bailey, London’s Conservative candidate in next year’s mayoral election, tweeted: “The mayor knows nothing is stopping him from providing PPE to every London transport worker if he wanted to.”
Meanwhile, Waitrose showed off new anti-coronavirus visors — quickly compared online to Darth Vadar’s helmet. The chain is expanding to 2.5million households a scheme to deliver up to 25 items within two hours.
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