Sticking to the basics of hand washing and social distancing are more important than wearing face masks, two leading environmental health practitioners have said.
Face masks could give a false sense of security, they told the Belfast Telegraph’s new coronavirus podcast.
The director of the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health Gary McFarlane said it was vital the public understood the way infection was transmitted.
“I’ve actually observed people while I’m out doing my own shop in the queue with face masks and gloves and so on," he said.
“It’s important the public understands the way in which infection can be transmitted and it’s about hands and distance."
Mr McFarlane and Dr Lisa Ackerley said the best thing to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus is to maintain social distancing.
Dr Ackerley, an independent environmental health practitioner, said: “The guidance from the WHO at the moment is that these face masks are in such short supply we really need to keep them for the people who really do need them and that’s the people who are up front and close to people with coronavirus.”
She called for people to think carefully about why they’re wearing a mask.
Mr McFarlane added: “At the moment, we’re expected to stay at home and not go out, except to the supermarket every week or so, and if we do go out, we keep two meters away. And that’s actually the better thing to do.”
He referenced a report by Ulster University captured at the height of the pandemic using thermal imaging cameras in offices, which showed that many people are still not washing their hands.
Dr Ackerley said: “There have been some research papers that indicate coronavirus can be shed in faeces so it’s even more important that people wash their hands after going to the toilet as well as all the other key times.
She said there needed to be a change in public attitudes when lockdown measures eased in the future.
“One of the things we need to change in our opinions is that it’s not just about protecting ourselves from other people but it’s about protecting other people from ourselves.”
With food packing, the risk is low but there are steps you can take to put your mind at ease, she said.
“It could be contaminated but the contamination isn’t necessarily going to be in the food factory or even in the shop or from the people running the shop.
“But a lot of people are going to be touching the packaging in the course of the day when the food is on sale.
“If the food is something that has got a long shelf life - like a tin or a bottle of squash - you could just leave it for three days by which time we know that the amount of viable virus will have reduced substantially.
“If you have milk or something perishable that needs to go in the fridge or freezer and it concerns you, it isn’t that much effort to disinfect the outside surface of the food packaging.
“The most important thing is to go straight to the wash basin and wash your hands for 20 seconds and that really does help to remove any virus you might have picked up. That’s good common sense practice anyway,” she said.
You can hear more on the Belfast Telegraph’s Coronavirus podcast on Soundcloud and Spotify.