Government advice on masks ‘confusing’ warns BMA

The BMA has warned that Government measures and public guidance on face covering rules in England are unclear, inconsistent and are causing widespread confusion.

Official Government communications have also used images of people wearing inappropriate masks with valves, while some businesses, including hairdressers, are being advised to use visors or face shields in the place of an effective face covering.

It is vital, the BMA says, to emphasise that the primary purpose of wearing a face covering is to prevent droplets leaving the mouth or nose of someone who may be carrying and therefore potentially transmitting the virus to others, but who has no or minimal symptoms. It is therefore not a protective strategy for the individual, but one for the population as a whole. The BMA believes:

  • For the general public a cotton mask, covering the nose, mouth and chin, is suitable. This can then be washed and reused. Ideally these should be three layers thick and of tightly woven fabric.
  • Masks with exhalation valves should not be used, as they allow potentially infected air to be channelled out through the valve and are thus less effective.
  • Visors are likely to offer much less protection against viral transmission from the wearer to others and should not be worn in place of an effective face covering.
  • People who are clinically extremely vulnerable should consider wearing a fluid-resistant surgical mask, as these are likely to offer greater protection to the wearer.
  • The public should not wear medical grade respirators – these should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers.

The BMA says that face coverings should be mandatory in all scenarios where two-metre physical distancing cannot be maintained between people from different households or “bubbles”, and there are no other mitigating measures in place, such as plastic screens.