As coronavirus cases in the UK rise, Sky News reporters look at whether face masks are an effective tool to protect against the disease.


Retailers have reported a surge in sales of face masks over fears about the spread of the coronavirus.


But as the UK government warns the outbreak is a "serious and imminent threat to public health", are face masks an effective tool to protect against the disease, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives?


Dr Nathalie MacDermott, a clinical lecturer at King's College London, told Sky News there is "not any good evidence" to suggest surgical masks can protect the general public from the virus but there are other methods.






She said: "Surgical masks are not designed with a very decent filter on them so they're not able to really filter out finer particles such as viruses.


"They also don't always fit ideally around the face to provide enough protection for someone.


Dr MacDermott said the more advanced FFP3 respirator (pictured below) "can filter much finer particles including viruses" and has a valve on the front that releases air so the mask does not become moist as quickly.


But she added that "any mask really is only as good as the person wearing it".


"If you were to wear a mask and then take it off and not wash your hands and then touch your eyes or eat some food, you've just risked contaminating yourself as well," she said.


"If you wear a mask you have to make sure you wash your hands afterwards.






"This type of mask may provide some form of protection but it's not necessarily advised by the UK government that it should be worn."


Dr MacDermott said an FFP3 respirator would be worn by healthcare workers who come into close proximity with patients.


But she added that members of the public who wear face masks to cover their mouths have other body parts that could carry a similar risk.


She said: "There's an argument to be made that if you wear a mask you should also be protecting your eyes because your eyes are also mucous membranes - the same as your lips and mouth and the inner part of your nose.


"You can cover [your mouth] but if someone coughs and the droplets go in your eye then that's just as much a risk as inhaling them."






Dr MacDermott said the most effective way of protecting against the coronavirus is to wash your hands.


She said: "I wouldn't suggest that masks were needed now. Even if we started to see ongoing transmission in the UK, I think it's very unlikely that Public Health England would start advocating for the use of masks.


"The best thing we can do is to wash our hands regularly... or use one of those sanitiser gel or alcohol gels to clean hands.


"That's the best protection we can afford ourselves."


Public Health England has issued advice on how to stop the spread of the coronavirus which includes telling people to carry tissues to catch coughs and sneezes, and wash hands with soap and water or use sanitiser gel.


Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation's advice on who should wear face masks says:


tick If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus

tick Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing

tick Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water

tick If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly 



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Article Credit: Full credit and copyright belongs to David Mercer - News reporter at Sky News @DavidMercerSky

Image credits: Full credit and copyright belongs with Sky News