Brits don coronavirus face masks (and Tesco bags) on public ...

 

The UK says you shouldn’t. Japan says you should.

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) wants you to, but only if you’re sick or caring for someone who is. 

 

The scientific community seems divided. What’s compulsory in Wuhan is merely polite in Hong Kong. 

 

Should you be wearing a mask, and why has meaningful advice been so difficult to come by? 

 

Who to believe?

 

A cohesive global strategy does not exist. But the truth is masks either help or they don’t.

 

In the UK, members of the public have from the outset been told to not wear face masks. Health Secretary Matt Hancock today told cameras advice had not changed, echoing fears that face masks may create a false sense of security and adversely impact the spread. 

 

But across the Atlantic, officials are now calling on citizens to cover up. Back in January, the US was almost unanimous in its aversion to masks. Now the White House is advising that all citizens (healthy or otherwise) wear homemade masks – homemade as to reserve surgical masks for medical staff. 

 

Some nations have gone even further. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have joined parts of China in criminalising the failure to wear a mask. Barefaced Austrians are refused supermarket entry. 

 

Shifting sentiments

 

At a glance, the scientific community appears just as divided. 

 

University of San Francisco researcher Jeremy Howard believes “masks dramatically help reduce the spread of the virus.” 

 

Meanwhile, Dr Ben Killingley at University College London Hospital said: “Wearing masks can give a false sense of reassurance and might lead to other infection control practices being ignored.” 

 

However, new research showing that coronavirus may be carried eight metres by a sneeze suggests face masks stifle transmission better than previously thought.

 

This has given the WHO cause to reexamine its advice.

 

But face masks are already in short supply. Global health workers are jostling for them. If we all decide face masks help, perhaps the next decision we make will be who gets one. 

 

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