COVID-19: Compulsory face masks on trains and buses policy ignores previous advice - expert comment
Release Date 04 June 2020
Commenting on the news that the UK government is making face coverings compulsory on public transport, such as buses and trains, Dr Simon Clarke, associate professor of cellular microbiology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, said:
"This policy will add more burden on the general public to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is much more complicated than ‘wash your hands for 20 seconds' or ‘stay at home'. We are asking the whole population of Britain, with no prior experience of mask-wearing, to overnight become competent makers, wearers, and maintainers of PPE. I hope the government has a fool-proof plan in place to educate every family in the country on how to do this, or it could actually put people at higher risk of infection.
"Wearing a basic face mask does little or very little to prevent the wearer from getting infected by others, but there is some limited evidence that wearing one can prevent others from being infected by the wearer. I have seen no new evidence to suggest why the government is reversing its previous policy, and ignoring its previous scientific guidance and the guidance of the WHO. I'm left wondering if this is a political decision, rather than one based on science.
A badly-fitted, damp or dirty mask can put the wearer at greater risk of infection
"If this change in policy is to be successful at reducing infections, it will have to be accompanied by a major new campaign to educate 66 million people on how to properly make, put on, handle and clean their face coverings. A badly-fitted, damp or dirty mask, or poor habits such as regularly touching eyes or adjusting the ties, can put the wearer at greater risk of infection. Most people in the UK have no experience of wearing face coverings, and it will be much harder to get used to than washing hands more often or keeping 2m distance from others."