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Cap UK death toll by making face coverings mandatory, suggest researchers

At present, face coverings are mandatory on public transport and in hospitals in England, and are recommended in crowded places, such as busy shops.

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Passengers wearing face masks at Waterloo station in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Passengers wearing face masks at Waterloo station in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Passengers wearing face masks at Waterloo station in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Making face coverings mandatory in public places, combined with effective testing and tracing, could dramatically cut the number of future deaths from Covid-19, researches say.

A team of experts investigated different scenarios for capping the UK death toll and found that extensive testing, tracing and isolation, combined with widespread use of face coverings, could save 50,000 lives and £700 billion of GDP over the next two years.

They based their death count on a Government death toll of just over 40,000 people by June 5 – although other estimates put the figure much higher.

At present, face coverings are mandatory on public transport and in hospitals in England – and are recommended in crowded places, such as busy shops.

The new study, co-led by University College London (UCL), the University of Edinburgh and the University of Haifa, has not yet been peer-reviewed.

It suggests that the UK death toll could be capped at around 52,000 with effective test, track and trace and the use of face coverings – roughly half the deaths that might be seen without effective test and trace.

The researchers also suggest short additional lockdowns may be needed to drive down the number of Covid-19 cases further to allow implementation of a large-scale test-and-trace policy.

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A sign advising passengers to wear a face mask at Clapham Junction station (Yui Mok/PA)

A sign advising passengers to wear a face mask at Clapham Junction station (Yui Mok/PA)

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A sign advising passengers to wear a face mask at Clapham Junction station (Yui Mok/PA)

The model also assumes that all people with symptoms are tested and all their contacts are traced and do self-isolate.

Lead author Dr Tim Colbourn, from UCL’s Institute for Global Health, said: “Our results make a strong case for expanding testing and tracing immediately to control Covid-19 spread until a vaccine or highly effective drugs are available.

“By clearly showing the health and economic benefits that such a system could lead to, we hope our study will help to galvanise support for integrated testing, tracing and isolation for the UK.”

PA