Written by Tom Trust


Something I have never grasped is our government’s complete blind spot on face coverings. “We follow the Science”, they burble; which only leads me to conclude that the Scientific – and Medical – advice they have been receiving has been worse than dreadful. I have seen and heard comments attributed to “Government Scientists” which compare the size of the Coronavirus with the size of the gaps between the various materials used in face masks. The Corona virus measures about 125 nm (nanometers) across. That is 125 BILLIONTHS of a meter. Tiny. The gaps between the threads of even a very finely woven cloth are like the proverbial barn door to a Coronavirus particle.

So the gaps between the fibres in many types of face-covering are larger than the diameter of a virus. This appears to be the basis of the advice given, that face masks are ineffective against viruses. Well, balderdash! How are Covid-19, and many other types of germ, transmitted? (By the way “germ” is a non-scientific word which refers to any virus, bacterium, fungal spore or single-celled animal which causes an illness.) They are mainly transmitted in droplets sneezed, coughed or merely breathed out by an infected person. These droplets are of varying size, some so small as to be classified as “aerosol particles”, themselves smaller than the gaps between the fibres in the average mask or other face covering but many large enough to be intercepted by the aforementioned mesh of threads.

Probably everyone (still) reading this will have worn a scarf around their face during a very cold snap. You will have discovered that the inside of the face covering becomes damp. That is the moisture you have been breathing out. If you are carrying a respiratory infection, like a common cold, then there will be many germs trapped in the moisture in the scarf, rendering them incapable of escaping to infect anyone nearby. Some of the aerosol particles will be trapped, despite their diminutive size, because of electrostatic attraction between them and the droplets of fluid already held in the face covering.

The scarf can be washed or merely left to dry (yuck!) in which case the germs will be destroyed or die – eventually, in the latter case. This is not rocket science. It does not constitute a guarantee of preventing the spread of the infection; it does not filter out 100% of the viruses around; but it does cut it down and the evidence is that it cuts it down quite a lot. Just bear in mind that if a virus has your name on it (albeit in tiny writing) it will get you no matter what precautions you take!

I have been Skyping a school friend who lives in Manila who told me months ago that there, the Philippine Government made the wearing of a face covering compulsory in public. Along with other measures such as social distancing and the shutting down of certain businesses like in so many other countries, it has kept its infection and death rates way below the world average, in a population quite a lot larger than ours. They gave out information that, for example, the material from which the common T-shirt is made can be used in the back-room manufacture of a face mask. This statistical evidence was available months ago. 

Masks are described by those opposed to protecting those around them from any germs they might spread as “muzzles”. This is to descend to the level of those opposed to Brexit who deliberately and repeatedly used emotive words such as “crashing out” or “cliff edge” to denigrate Brexit: though, of course, one purpose of a muzzle on a dog is to protect those in its vicinity from being harmed by the dog; which is actually what masks are helping to do amongst us humans. So perhaps it is not quite as bad as crashing out over a cliff edge!

Of course it needs to be recognised that one very non-Scientific reason for our Government not making the wearing of face masks compulsory was that back in February there was simply not even enough PPE for our NHS and Care Workers, never mind the population as a whole. That’s to the shame of our Governments since the 2016 pandemic simulation which revealed the kind of things that needed to be done, just in case, but which were simply left undone. That’s down to May’s Government, really. Just recall that in 1939 the then Government saw to it that every member of the population had a gas-mask – just in case – produced at considerable expense and involving a far greater production effort than sewing a dining-table’s worth of home-made masks!

All the thousands of people in the UK who started making masks at home needed to be embraced and organised into a nation-wide distribution network – but the Scientific advice was that “there is no evidence that masks are effective” (or, as I interpret it, there is therefore no evidence that masks are not effective – so better wear one just in case). Now our namby-pamby government has “advised” that users of public transport and now shoppers should wear a face covering. Who is left to police this but the transport and shop staff. Oh, and you only have to say you are asthmatic and we all have to believe you and let you get away with not wearing one. Advice, advice, advice, that’s all we get when what we need is leadership and enforcement.

There will be a second spike. Here in Cornwall, my wife and I wear a mask when shopping. I have bought a reusable denim one (I like denim) and a Union Jack one (Brexit!). We are beginning to see an influx of untested, unmonitored holiday makers who seem to feel entitled to a holiday. How decadent we are! That infection and death numbers will rise is hardly in doubt and we only have a weak, inadequate and poorly-advised government to blame. 



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