Experts have urged the government to go beyond a recently announced campaign to tell people in England how to wear face covers and promote their use with more force, in the midst of low public acceptance.
The information campaign will ask people to make sure that the nose and mouth are covered to ensure their effectiveness. But scientists say the government should do more to increase the use of face covers, which are currently only required on public transportation.
After Royal Society president Venki Ramakrishnan said on Monday that refusing to wear a mask in indoor public places should become as socially unacceptable as drinking or not wearing a seatbelt, other experts said government should play its part.
Susan Michie, a psychologist in a Sage subgroup and also a member of Independent Sage, said on Tuesday: “It is becoming increasingly clear that face masks are necessary and guaranteed, especially in indoor spaces. And I think we really need to start thinking about how we will get there given that there is no cultural history and there is no huge appetite to watch the British public in this moment.
“We need to have a really effective and nuanced campaign, and explain why masks are important, how they should be worn. And I think we have to do it as soon as possible. “
Ramakrishnan commented after two studies were jointly published by the Royal Society and the British Academy, saying that face covers could help limit the spread of Covid-19. One suggested that at the end of April, wearing a mask in the UK was around 25%, compared to 83.4% in Italy, 65.8% in the United States and 63.8% in Spain.
In Scotland, face covers will be compulsory in stores from 10 July, while in England it is advisable to wear them as far as possible in “closed public spaces where social distancing is not possible and where you will get in touch with people you don’t normally know. meet”.
Unlike Boris Johnson, Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon appeared in public wearing a mask. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, wore masks when they visited retailers to mark their reopening.
Speaking at the same meeting hosted by the BMJ, Philippa Whitford, SNP health spokesperson in Westminster and breast surgeon, said the models could boost recruitment. “If you start to get celebrities and others to act as role models [, it could help], “she said.” And so I think making it mandatory is important, but I also think it’s promoting it on every occasion. “
Ruth Hussey, former chief medical officer for Wales, said, “I think the suggestion that this [wearing face masks] goes hand in hand with the wider campaign to eliminate the virus is very judicious, in particular because, towards winter, we will spend more time in confined spaces.
However, there are skeptics about the benefits of face covers. Dr. Antonio Lazzarino, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London, said that the comparison with drinking and driving and not wearing a seat belt was not valid.
“We know drinking and driving is a very dangerous thing to do and we know the reasons for it, and the same thing with seat belts. We know the mitigation of damage in a crash and we know the reasons why it protects you from concussions, “he said. “So everything is clear, all the mechanisms and risks are described very clearly, there is no need for further research. We know everything we need to know. But this is simply not the case for face masks. “
Dr. Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading, said the evidence remains mixed but, even if it was not, “changes in mass behavior, such as reduced rates drinking or smoking, does not happen overnight, but from a complex set of incentives, laws, taxes, messages, stories and beliefs. “
Describing details of the information campaign on how to wear masks, Johnson’s official spokesperson said, “A face covering should cover both the nose and mouth to reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets.” , helping to protect others … This is a message that we will be happy to emphasize in the coming days. ”
Johnson has been criticized for delaying advice to wear face covers when they were already mandatory in several other countries.