face mask coronavirus COVID19

Following the prime minister’s address to the nation on the 10th May, new guidance advising the public to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces, including shops, has led to a dramatic spike in people searching for face masks online.

A mandatory requirement in many countries, the World Health Organisations first recommended the use of face masks in public at the beginning of April as the coronavirus spread globally.

Throughout April however, the British government countered pressure to introduce face masks as a mandatory requirement of lockdown, emphasising the science did not support the notion that a widespread would have a significant impact on curbing the virus’ spread.

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In addition, Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, warned of a shortage risk for the NHS if the public were to start purchasing masks on a large scale.

Now, for the first time, people in England are being advised to cover their face when in enclosed spaces with those that they may not regularly come in contact with.

The policy shift brings the UK in line with Scotland which already recommends people wear face coverings when in shops and on public transport. North Ireland also advises residents to cover their faces in spaces where social distancing cannot be followed whilst Wales does not recommend any coverings.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) says the amended guidance is based on advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) after consideration of the latest scientific evidence which suggests face coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances.

Professor Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer, comments: “Wearing a face covering is an added precaution, that may have some benefit in reducing the likelihood that a person with the infection passes it on.

“The most effective means of preventing the spread of this virus remains following social distancing rules and washing your hands regularly. It does not remove the need to self-isolate if you have symptoms.”

Importantly, the government is urging people not to purchase surgical masks or respirators, which are prioritised for healthcare workers working in more high-risk environments where the risk is greatest.

Health Minister Jo Churchill says: “Today, thanks to the evidence provided by our expert scientists, we are advising people to consider wearing a face covering if they can in enclosed public spaces where social distancing is impossible, for example on public transport or in shops. This may help prevent you spreading the virus to others.

“You do not need a clinical mask which are prioritised for our healthcare workers. Instead a face covering is sufficient and we encourage people to make these at home with items they will already own.”

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, face coverings do not need to be worn outdoors, while exercising, in schools, in workplaces such as offices, and retail, or by those who may find them difficult to wear, such as children under two or primary aged children who cannot use them without assistance, or those who may have problems breathing whilst wearing a face covering.

Research from the WHO showed that where masks were recommended for prolonged periods of time, some wearers failed to maintain good handwashing practices or follow social distancing policies, putting others at risk, says the Department of Health and Social Care.

“It is important the public refrains from touching their face covering when wearing it, where possible, to avoid hand to mask transmission of the virus,” added the government, alongside stressing the importance of washing them after every use.

The government says it will not supply face coverings centrally to the public, stating that the items and fabrics needed are readily available on the market.

For retailers in the sector, supplying face coverings may help to offset declines in other product areas.

(Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means that there was not enough data for this term.)

THIIS tracked search terms based around ‘face mask’ in Google Trends which has revealed that the term has spiked in the UK since the announcement and has reached peak popularity within the last 24 hours, with some specific terms rising by over 800 per cent.

It comes following the government’s decision to make all PPE temporarily VAT free until July.

Read the guidance on how to wear and make a cloth face covering.

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