The UK has seemed relatively behind other countries when it comes to adopting facemasks or coverings in public settings. Many countries have already adopted mandatory face coverings in public areas such as shops. Initially the World Health Organization ‘only recommend[ed] face masks for people who are coughing or sneezing, or for those who are caring for people who are suspected to have covid-19’ according to the New Scientist. At the start of the pandemic the UK government followed advice insisting that there was little evidence that face coverings were effective. In comparison, the US Centres for Disease Control recommended the widespread use of facemasks in early April. When lockdown restrictions began to lift, facemasks were initially introduced on public transport only. Recently, the government announced that it was mandatory to wear facemasks in shops and supermarkets, else pay a hefty fine.
The new UK law making it compulsory to wear facemasks in UK shops and supermarkets will come into effect on the 24th of July. Those who do not comply can be fined up to £100 by the police – reducing to £50 if the fine is paid promptly. Those who are exempt include children under 11, shop workers and those with certain disabilities.
When enquiries into whether facemasks would be required in office settings, health secretary Matt Hancock rejected the idea, stating to the BBC: ‘”It is something we’ve looked at and rejected,” he said, but added masks would be worn elsewhere by the public “for the foreseeable future”’
Cloth facemasks attempt to trap the droplets released when a wearer talks, coughs or sneezes. Facemasks should reduce the risk of the wearer spreading COVID-19 to others. Making facemasks mandatory for all, lowers the risk of coronavirus spread by those who have the virus but do not realize it. Despite the UK governments prior insistence that facemasks would not be mandatory in many settings, they are slowly creeping into daily life.
Elsewhere in Europe: ‘Face masks are already obligatory in shops in Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, Bulgaria and Belgium. France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has said he also wants to toughen up the rules,’ the Guardian reported.
Findings from the reputable medical journal, The Lancet in a study entitled: ‘Physical distancing, face masks, and eye protection to prevent person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis’, found that ‘Face mask use could result in a large reduction in risk of infection with stronger associations with N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar.’
Other studies have found that facemasks are beneficial, The University of Edinburgh found that masks can limit the reach of exhaled breath by up to 90%. Another study in Germany found that the after masks were made compulsory in Jena, the daily growth rate of infections fell by 40%.
According to Mayo Clinic: ‘Masks can be made from common materials, such as sheets made of tightly woven cotton. Instructions are easy to find online. Cloth masks should include multiple layers of fabric. The CDC website even includes directions for no-sew masks made from bandannas and T-shirts.’ The CDC advises that you should wash your hands before putting on the facemask and after taking it off, they should be treated like socks and washed after every use (if they are re-usable), and you should avoid touching them throughout their use. They need to fit over your nose and mouth and securely under the chin, there should be no gaps but you still should be able to breath easily.
A face covering should still be used in conjunction with consistent handwashing and social distancing measures of 1-2 metres. In the aforementioned study The Lancet also reported that: ‘. Transmission of viruses was lower with physical distancing of 1 m or more, compared with a distance of less than 1 m protection was increased as distance was lengthened.’
For many countries therefore, facemask are here to stay, establishing themselves as a stable facet of pandemic society. Fashion retailers are offering an array of different styles and transparent facemasks are even available to make communication easier. Both for those who are hard of hearing and rely on lip-reading to our programmed reliance on non-verbal cues. Bhismadev Chakrabarti, professor of neuroscience at the University of Reading stated to Wired: “With disgust or anger, for example, a lot of the information comes from the mouth region. It might be the tiniest twitch in the levator muscles, the muscles that draw the lip corners back and down, that might reflect my mental state but if you were just looking at my eyes, I might be looking straight at you and you might not be able to guess the emotion just looking at the eyes.” Transparent masks therefore, may make this new all-important accessory a little friendlier.