Written by Alan Wheatley

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I sent my MP, Bill Wiggin, an email yesterday evening (see below) about what it seemed the Government was going to require us to do when in “shops”. This morning’s news is confirmation it is going to happen, but is far from being clear as to what exactly will be required of us. And I fear clarity will follow current trends as being lacking. This is my letter:
“I heard you on the World At One – good interview. A marked contrast to some of the rubbish that is being broadcast re Covid-19.
The Government is, at least, partly to blame for the rubbish due to lack of clarity and consistency. While I appreciate the complexity of a novel and changing situation, I think the Government could do better, and also take the media to task for their incompetence.
For instance. The PM made a clear distinction between a face mask and a face covering, yet the terms are used indiscriminately by most people.
Also on WATO another interviewee referred to the social distancing space being reduced to 1m, but when the PM announced the change he made it clear that is was 1m+, i.e. 2m is STILL preferred but 1m was OK if there were compensating factors that gave the same protection as achieved at 2m.
There is an incoherent and simplistic debate about a mandatory requirement to wear a face mask in all shops. I can understand the logic of saying that if a mask shall be worn on crowed transport so they should also be worn in crowed shops. But not all shops are the same and not all shops are always crowded.
In Bromyard this morning I bought a loaf of bread in the artisan bakers. There is a sign outside saying only one person allowed in the shop at a time – I was the only person. They have a plastic screen at the counter providing separation between staff and customer. So, to require me to wear a mask for the minute I was in the shop achieves nothing of any value.
Similarly in the COOP, where I am able to choose times when there are few customers and we are all well spaced, follow the one-way system and are keeping 2m apart.
A universal rule called for by some seems more like stupid and ignorant people believing if someone else has the rule then so should we. Labour, of course, will jump on anything that they think will show the Government to be in the wrong.
We heard at the beginning of Lockdown about what is and is not achieved by the General Public wearing a face mask (not those for health workers but something much cruder). The only benefit is to catch droplets from people with the virus when they cough. The point has been made that if people are symptomatic they should be self isolating in any event.
Recently there is a view that the virus can hang around in the air for some time, rather than falling to the ground as with the droplets. We know viruses are extremely small, so small they can not be seen with a conventional microscope. It therefore seems to me that such small particles will go straight through any face mask other than something that has been explicitly design to catch them; and I have not heard anyone offer an opinion on whether such a thing is possible while still allowing the wearer to breath. So if these viruses, potentially hanging around in the air and are a hazard then it seems likely there is nothing we can do to protect ourselves from them in any event.
Masks that do not seal effectively round the edges are of little use because as you breath the air flow will primarily go through the path of least resistance, the gap round rather than through.
But masks that are good seals can be problematic. I was in a shop recently 2m behind a lady at the counter who was hoping to be able to buy another face mask because the one she was wearing was so restrictive that she was finding it difficult to breath. It seems this is an inevitable compromise, though no doubt top quality designs will be less of a compromise, all be it at a top quality price.
If you wear a mask on the assumption that it could be beneficial, no matter how marginal that benefit might be, then the corollary is that when you remove it you must assume it has trapped the virus and is now a contaminated object that can spread the virus if not handled correctly. So, what do you do? Having dutifully put your mask on  before going into the supermarket what do you do with it when you get back in the car? Do you carefully remove it so as not to be contaminated by it and then double-bag it, as you should, for safe disposal later? And do you go through the same procedure with a new mask on the way home when stopping for petrol?
I caught the back end of Mark Miodownik on WATO, talking a great deal of sense as usual. His point was that single-use masks lead to a VERY large waste pile; evidence already of them being discarded into the environment and finding their way into the sea. Multiple use masks can be put through the washing machine and used again. But even he did not make clear at what temperature: low temperature washes are encouraged because they use less energy but the Covid-19 virus, as I understand it, does not mind cold but does not like heat – again, partial information.
Miodownik said waste is a big problem. Single use masks put in a waste bid are a health hazard to those who empty the bin. Hospitals have the facilities to incinerate them.

Given that face masks have been worn by many people in various countries there surely must be an evidence base as to what they have achieved. It proves nothing to say that where masks have been worn there are fewer infections – correlation is not proof of causation. If face masks (outside hospitals) have been beneficial in reducing the spread of the virus then surely there must be the evidence somewhere. And if not why not? It is going to be pretty stupid to embark on a vast contaminated waste problem for no practical benefit.

If the Government is going to introduce new rules as to the wearing of face masks then they need to cite the basis on which such a decision is justified and to make explicit the specification of the mask that is needed to achieve the job they required of it. They must also make clear exactly how to use and dispose of the mask. Announcing this once in a press conference is not good enough. The full information should be available on the Gov web site. And for the benefit of the elderly and those without internet access, a Public Service Information Film must be made and broadcast periodically by our Public Service Broadcaster, the BBC. That way we will all be aware of the sound basis on which such policy has been formulated and that it is complete and coherent.”
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