Two top scientists are recommending members of the public should be wearing homemade face masks when they venture outdoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, official government advice and guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is not strong enough evidence to justify asking the general population to wear masks.
At the moment it is recommended that only sick people or those caring for the unwell should be wearing masks. But the debate around their use in the UK has been gaining momentum in recent weeks.
Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care health sciences at Oxford University, said: “We should be covering our faces with homespun materials like cotton. Medical-grade masks are scratchy and uncomfortable.
“Your old T-shirt is soft and nice, and with a couple of layers of kitchen paper inside a double layer, it will reduce the droplets coming out of your mouth and nose by about 95%. The public should not and must not divert medical-grade supplies.”
Professor Sian Griffiths, Emeritus Professor, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and co-chair of the Hong Kong government’s SARS inquiry, said Britain should probably follow America’s lead which suggests members of the public should adopt homemade masks when out and about.
The country is being advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Professor Griffiths said: “The CDC advice in the US is pragmatic. It recognises both the need to ensure the supply of masks for clinical situations where they are obviously needed at the same time as recognising that there could potentially be benefits in wearing ‘masks’ in public to prevent passing on the infection.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is also urging the Government to change its advice about face masks and wants it to encourage people to wear homemade face masks when they are unable to social distance in environments such as public transport.
Speaking to BBC Breakfast on Friday he said donning non-medical facemasks, such as a bandana or scarf, would add “another layer of protection” to people.
The government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) has been reviewing the evidence on wearing face masks. It is thought ministers are hesitant to recommend face masks – even homemade ones – in case people rush to buy medical masks leaving supplies to the NHS even more reduced.
On Tuesday’s daily government press conference, when asked about face masks, the Health Minister Matt Hancock said that would be “guided by the science as always”.