New COVID advice on transparent face masks issued by government

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3 min read
John Hamilton, landlord of Pop bar, wearing a transparent face mask, in Manchester as the city is waiting to find out if the region will be placed into the Very High category with tier 3 lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.
A man wearing a transparent face mask in Manchester in October last year. The government has now advised against the 'wider public' wearing them. (PA)

People should not wear transparent face masks, new government coronavirus advice says.

The government’s updated face covering guidance now includes a section advising the “wider public” against wearing transparent masks as their effectiveness against transmission is unproven.

This comes seven months after the government announced it would deliver 250,000 clear face masks to frontline NHS and social care workers to help them communicate with patients with conditions such as hearing loss.

However, the new advice says they can still be used for this purpose.

It reads: “Transparent face coverings may be worn by those who communicate through reading or facial expressions.

“However, their effectiveness is not supported by evidence so the government does not recommend their use by the wider public at this time.

“In order to be most effective, a face covering should fit securely around the face to cover the nose and mouth, and be made of a breathable material capable of filtering airborne particles.”

Responding to the new advice, Dr Helena McKeown, the British Medical Association's (BMA) equality, diversity and inclusion lead, said: "The BMA recognises that there is a clear need for deaf people, both healthcare workers and the general public, to be able to communicate effectively while wearing a mask.

"To date, transparent face masks have been tested in a variety of settings but there remain issues around provision of masks that are suitable for use in clinical settings."

Watch: Matt Hancock accused of ‘cronyism’ over shares in family firm which has NHS contracts

Dr McKeown said the union is "continuing to push for clear masks that are appropriate and effective for use in healthcare settings, and most importantly, have been tested by the people who will be wearing them".

The new transparent mask advice is in the same section as guidance on face shields, with people urged not to wear shields or visors without a mask as they “do not adequately cover the nose and mouth, and do not filter airborne particles”.

Prof Christina Pagel, a member of the unofficial Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which scrutinises COVID-19 policy, said earlier this week she is a “bit worried by how many staff wear a face shield instead of a mask – shields do not work".

It comes as thousands of retail units, gyms, outdoor attractions and community centres – as well as pubs and restaurants for outdoor service – reopened across England on Monday as part of the latest easing of lockdown restrictions.

 A hairdresser wearing a face mask and shield cuts hair of a client during the reopening.
Shops, restaurants, bars and other businesses reopened today after almost four months as further lockdown rules are relaxed in England. (Photo by Yunus Dalgic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A barber wearing a face shield and mask, as per government guidance, as shops reopened on Monday. (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

She said the government needs to be "much stronger" now the economy is reopening.

Prof Pagel told Yahoo News UK: "Face shields on their own aren’t good enough and I don’t think that’s ever been made public through a campaign, because loads of shop staff are still wearing just face shields.

"I’ve seen hairdressers and beauticians wearing just face shields, and they’re often standing over people’s heads funnelling the air down to your face.

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"I think the government should be much stronger on the public health messaging."

She said Downing Street should write to businesses to remind them of the guidance, as well as run TV adverts and billboard campaigns to help "empower" customers to ask staff to wear a mask rather than a face shield on its own.

Watch: How England is leaving lockdown