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Covid-19 – Will a facemask help?

Diligent hand washing is being promoted as one of the main ways people can protect themselves from coronavirus but will a facemask help?


A woman wearing a facemask on the London Underground (PA)

A woman wearing a facemask on the London Underground (PA)

A woman wearing a facemask on the London Underground (PA)

As fears rise over the potential spread of Covid-19 an increasing number of people are wearing facemasks in public. But are they effective?

Here are some questions answered on what people can do to protect themselves and limit the spread of infection.

What is the best way for people to protect themselves against infections like coronavirus?

Health officials say the best protection is to regularly wash their hands with soap and water.

If soap and water are not available, hand sanitiser gel can be used until people can get to a sink.

People are encouraged to wash their hands for 20 seconds, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson instructing the public to wash their hands for the length of time it takes to sing happy birthday twice.

What about the use of facemasks? Do they work?

Public Health England has said that for the general public, facemasks are not considered to be effective to protect them from becoming infected.

But when worn by those who may already be infected with the virus, masks can help reduce the spread.

PHE added specialist masks are included in protective equipment for appropriately-trained health professionals dealing with high-risk individuals or cases.

“Face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals,” said Dr Jake Dunning, PHE’s head of emerging infections and zoonoses.

“However, there is very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings.”

Is there any advice for people who choose to wear facemasks?

The public are not being advised to use facemasks. Some people in isolation will have been given facemasks and will have been instructed by their health professional how and when to use them.

This guidance will likely include information on how they are worn correctly, should be changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely.

One expert, William Keevil, professor of environmental healthcare at the University of Southampton, previously urged people “not to over rely on using standard masks”.

He added: “They are usually loose fitting, use poor filtration fabrics and give little protection to the wearer other than to restrict touching the nose and mouth without protecting the eyes”.

But Prof Keevil added: “If you must, then use a close fitting N95-rated (FFP2) mask which offers good, although not complete, protection against infectious aerosols e.g. from coughs.”

Is there any advice other than washing hands?

Aside from regular hand washing people can ensure their work surfaces and door handles are clean and they can try to avoid touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

The “catch it, bin it, kill it” slogan is also being employed to encourage people to try and prevent infection spread though coughing and sneezing.