Western Morning News

‘Cover your face in busy places’


A SOUTH West expert in disease control has thrown his weight behind the wearing of face masks to help limit the spread of the coronaviru­s.

Dr Bharat Pankhania said that he had followed the UK line that masks were appropriat­e only in a clinical area by that the situation now was different.

But it was now clear that face coverings could help reduce the spread in cases were people were not showing symptoms.

“We have to learn and change practice. We know that people infected with the coronaviru­s may be secreting virus before they show any signs and symptoms,” said Dr Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter.

“They may be throwing out the virus and never go on to show symptoms.

“Therefore we have to consider that anyone, anywhere, anytime could be infected.

“The virus is usually spread by small droplets over a short distance. Therefore in places where you cannot avoid people, on crowded buses, on crowded trains, in shops, it might be a good idea to cover your face with something to catch those droplets so that if you are infectious you don’t infect others.

“And the second thing is that if you are not infected and you are wearing a mask, you don’t get an unfortunat­e, direct hit from somebody and get infected that way.

“That is the new thinking and the new suggestion. The centres for disease control in America have adopted that line and so have the European centres of disease control, so it is not just maverick doctors like me saying I think we should wear them in places crowded with people.”

Dr Pankhania, whose 20 years’ experience include working on the Ebola and SARS epidemics, also urged people to shop singly to make social distancing easier.

“If you are out with another person or in a family of two, three, four, you are multiplyin­g the risk of somebody bringing the virus into your home by two, three, four times.”

He urged people not to try to squeeze past others in confined spaces such as supermarke­ts or to get into confrontat­ions.

“You should be avoid situations. If somebody approaches, if somebody does not keep that social distance, be like a scared cat – take cover, back off.

“If you take steps away, you are in control.”

There was, he said, no need to wear a face mask or covering when not in a crowded area. “You can only become infected by people or in places where people congregate. If you are not in those places, you are fine.”

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