Official Government response
The petition from HART member Dr Gary Sidley calling for the immediate lifting of the mask mandate has now received over 65,000 signatures. The Government response, issued on the 11 May, is both misleading and confusing.
The Government argues that the ‘best way to minimise the risk of further COVID-19 waves’ is to wear a face covering. They go on to say that COVID-19 is ‘usually spread by droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking’ and that masks may reduce the likelihood of someone with asymptomatic infection passing it on to others. The focus of the response then switches to the intention ‘to give people more confidence’ when shopping and thereby encouraging them to return to the high street. So — according to the Government — face coverings are effective in reducing viral transmission and will ease public anxieties about resuming their normal activities. HART refutes both these assertions.
The evidence that masks decrease the spread of SARS-COV-2 in real-world settings is — at best — weak and contradictory. A review of 14 controlled studies concluded that masks did not significantly lessen the spread of seasonal flu in the community. With specific regards to SARS-COV-2, the only large randomised controlled trial found that masks for healthy people did not significantly reduce the infection risk for the wearer. Inevitably, the lay public often wear masks incorrectly, thereby constituting an infection hazard; there has been recognition of this contamination risk in the scientific literature, and other researchers have cautioned against the use of cloth face coverings. Furthermore, the potential for mask wearing to be associated with multiple physical and social harms has been well documented.
The case for masking the healthy is further weakened by research suggesting that asymptomatic transmission contributes very little (less than 7%) to the propagation of a pandemic, and that the virus is spread via aerosols — rather than droplets — the former being far too small for face coverings to act as a barrier. Watching steam spread rapidly around and away from an exhaling vape gives a pretty good idea of how irrelevant a cloth facemask is to the spread of aerosols.
And the Government’s suggestion that masks will reassure the public is absurd. Acting as a crude, highly visible reminder that “danger” is all around, face coverings are fuelling widespread anxiety; to recommend them is akin to insisting people wear garlic cloves around their necks to reduce their fear of vampires.If people choose to wear face coverings, so be it, but the evidence is far from sufficient to justify a mandate.