Are masks lowering Covid infection rate?
A RECENT reader questioned why some MPs did not support the measures on wearing face masks.
These MPs (and others outside Parliament) are quite rightly questioning how much virus transmission is actually occurring in shops and on public transport, and therefore the requirement to wear a mask in these settings.
In July, England removed the requirement to wear a mask in a shop, or on public transport (except in London) whereas Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland retained the measure. Subsequently the ONS weekly infection level statistics showed no real divergence in infection levels between the home nations, hence bringing into question whether wearing a mask in shops and on public transport was having any real impact.
In England the removal of the requirement to wear a mask in a shop resulted in a gradual drop-off in their use, although I would say that around 60 per cent were still wearing them at the time they became mandatory again.
But more noticeable was the reduction in shop-floor staff wearing them. I would suggest only around 25 per cent were doing so. Despite the lack of masks the staff appeared happy with the situation. The supermarket owners expressed no concerns about staff absence due to Covid infection, and the shop workers’ unions were not complaining about their staff being put at risk. All of which questions the degree of Covid transmission in shops.
While it is true that wearing a mask may reduce the level of virus that an infected person puts into the air, in an environment such as supermarket, where air management systems are constantly creating an airflow, and customers are nearly always on the move, there is little evidence of virus transmission.
We are now more than 20 months into the pandemic, but we seem reluctant to take on board what we have learned during that time. What we do know is that Covid is not going away. Mark Iles suggests we are seeking to defeat Covid – we are not. We are trying to learn to live with it.
Restrictions to our lives simply prolong the pandemic by delaying the point where immunity levels restrain infection. Where interventions are required to prevent services being overwhelmed, they should be limited to those that have a real impact on virus transmission.