Wearing masks to protect from coronavirus can give people a 'false sense of security', a doctor has warned.
So far the government has not encouraged mask wearing, or made it compulsory in public spaces, unlike other nations around the world.
Scientists are divided on the benefits of using face coverings to prevent the spread of virus droplets between people, as masks themselves can become contaminated.
There are also concerns that making masks mandatory will intensify pressures around personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages within the NHS and care services.
Oldham’s chief clinical officer, Dr John Patterson has also warned that if mask-wearing becomes widespread, important social distancing habits could be disregarded.
He said he was asked ‘all the time’ by patients about whether they should start wearing masks or scarves while out shopping or exercising.
But he added that from his recent experience, mask wearing could promote unsafe behaviour.
“I went to Costco the other day and someone had a mask that looked like it was a full-on FFP3 mask that we wear in ICU,” Dr Patterson said.
“It looked the same but it was actually an FFP1 mask, so it was just a dust mask.
“And because he had that mask on he was so close to everybody else, because I think he felt he was protected.
“The problem with people wearing their own stuff and having a go themselves is that it does give you a false sense of security.
“Nothing works better with this virus than a two metre air gap.”
Dr John Patterson
Dr Patterson added: “Scarves and masks, whatever people can get their hands on, that’s not the answer, please don’t be reassured.
“Keep our distances, wash our hands, wipe down our surfaces. These are the things that are going to stop the spread of this.”
He explained that social distancing measures, rather than mask wearing, had reduced the infection rate of coronavirus – the ‘R’ rate – down from 2.5 people to just under one.
Reducing the infection rate to under 0.5 can be considered the ‘end game of the virus’, he said.
“And the thing that’s got us there is social distancing, and it’s not masks and it’s not people covering their faces,” he concluded.
However Manchester Airport has announced that, starting this week, passengers and staff will have to wear gloves and cover their faces.
There will also be temperature scanners at an airport hub as part of a ‘trial’ to screen those who could have contracted COVID-19.
Other countries across Europe have advocated the wearing of masks and face coverings to reduce the spread of the pandemic.
At the end of April, all of Germany’s states announced plans to make face masks compulsory.
And from May 11, people must wear face masks in France on public transport and in secondary schools.
Shops and markets will also have the right to ask shoppers to wear masks, and should ensure they remain a metre apart, the French government says.
In the UK, the Scottish government has recommended people cover their faces while in some enclosed public spaces, such as shops and public transport.
However the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended healthy people do not need to wear a mask.
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