Telling public to wear masks ‘could put NHS supplies at risk’, health chief warns as government scientists are set to discuss easing UK out of lockdown

  • World Health Organisation says there is no evidence to support public use 
  • NHS Providers group said public mask use could put front line workers at risk 
  • Other groups have advocated the use of wearing cotton masks in public 

The amount of face masks available to front line NHS staff fighting against the coronavirus could be jeopardised if the government starts advising members of the public to wear them.

Hospital bosses have warned that stock levels could be depleted and that the use of face masks should be prioritised for health workers.  

Scientific advisers for the Government are carrying out a review of the use of face masks, despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying there is no evidence to support their use by the general population.

It comes as a shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) bound for the UK has been delayed in Turkey as those working in hospitals say the shortage is continuing.

This is while those working on coronavirus wards have been told they need to reuse PPE. New guidelines revealed this week suggest that disposable gowns can be re-used and masks should not be binned between patients – but gloves and aprons should still be disposed of as usual. 

Amid growing frustration, the Government said it had deployed ‘every resource’ to get its hands on desperately needed PPE supplies and ventilators in recent months. NHS staff are pictured carrying out coronavirus tests in Lincoln

Members of the public are seen wearing various face masks in London as well as protective gloves 

Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents hospitals and NHS trusts in England, has urged the Government to ‘fully assess’ the impact any new advice could have on health service supplies.

In a statement on Monday, he said: ‘Fluid repellent masks for health and care staff are key to safety and to avoid the spread of coronavirus.

‘Securing the supply of masks, when there is huge global demand, is crucial. This must be a key consideration for Government.

‘There needs to be clear evidence that wearing masks, along with other measures, will deliver significant enough benefits to take us out of lockdown to potentially jeopardise NHS mask supply.’

By Lara Keay for MailOnline

Union bosses have set out a list of five conditions they claim must be observed to protect teachers if schools are to re-open amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) warned that staff concerns must be ‘fully addressed’ before teachers would be willing to come back.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Dr Roach demands personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff, anti-viral cleaning measures and guidelines on how social distancing would be enforced in schools.

He also says teachers will not return to their jobs unless the Government affords them the same employment rights as other key workers and acknowledges the workforce is depleted because many are self-isolating, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Dr Patrick Roach (pictured), general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) warned that staff concerns must be ‘fully addressed’ before teachers would be willing to come back

 Dr Roach told the newspaper: ‘The NASUWT would not expect teachers to be asked to undertake cleaning tasks or to be expected to undertake them to the necessary standards to protect the health of pupils and the workforce.’

The Department for Education has already said teachers ‘do not need PPE’ and that their focus should be on ‘social distancing, handwashing, hygiene measures and cleaning surfaces’ to stop the virus spreading when they return.

The Government has been repeatedly slammed for its lack of PPE provision for frontline medical staff, with carers, supermarket cashiers and transport drivers also expressing concerns. 

 Although the Education Secretary has refused to commit to a timeline on schools re-opening, ministers are under pressure to ease parents’ concerns.

But Dr Roach and and Mr Williamson have both stressed that schools will not re-open until other lockdown measures have been eased. 

Despite this call for clearer guidelines on the use of masks for the general public. London Mayor Sadiq Khan last week warned that everyone might have to wear masks in public once the lockdown is lifted.

He also called for face masks to be worn why the public when using public transport. 

It comes as a group of medics called on people to make their own face masks to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Masks4All suggested homemade masks could slow the spread of Covid-19

The campaign group was started in the Czech Republic, but now has a global following. More than 100 UK medics have lent support to the campaign.

This is while other groups have also claimed that their staff members should have access to face masks if they are to go back to work.

Teaching union bosses have threatened to keep schools closed if they don’t receive face masks.

They have set out a list of five conditions they claim must be observed to protect teachers if schools open. 

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmaster Unions of Women Teachers (NASUWT) demands personal protective equipment (PPE) for all staff, anti-viral cleaning measures and guidelines on how social distancing would be enforced in schools. 

He also says teachers will not return to their jobs unless the Government affords them the same employment rights as other key workers and acknowledges the workforce is depleted because many are self-isolating.

The WHO said people who are not in health and care facilities should only wear masks if they are sick or caring for those who are ill.

Dr Helen Davison told the Daily Telegraph the group is ‘advocating the use of cloth masks as a precautionary principle’ and that it had been inspired by action taken in other countries ‘that have introduced face masks at population level’.

WHO guidance issued earlier this month acknowledged that the virus could be passed on by people who are not yet symptomatic, but it said: ‘Current evidence suggests that most disease is transmitted by symptomatic, laboratory confirmed cases.

‘There is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses.’

It warned that the use of masks by the public can create a ‘false sense of security’ and lead to people ignoring other protective measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distancing.

Masks can even be a source of infection when not used correctly, the WHO added.

A ‘traffic light’ plan for easing the crippling lockdown curbs is being pushed by some ministers – although Downing Street is flatly denying it has a fixed plan yet

A woman wears a face mask covering her mouth and nose to stop droplets entering the body

Desperate Britons have resorted to pulling their own teeth out due to closed dental practices – as industry faces ‘critical shortage’ of PPE forcing patients to ‘take matters into their own hands’

Dentists have today warned that patients are being left untreated as urgent treatment centres face a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Patients with urgent matters such as infections are being forced to take matters into their own hands, as dentists are unable to see them as they do not have the adequate supplies.

The British Dental Association said that 54 per cent of dentists in England have been unable to treat patients at urgent dental care (UDC) hubs, that have been set up across the country after surgeries closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One patient, Billy Taylor from Devon, pulled his own tooth out after he could no longer handle the pain.

Billy Taylor is pictured with his tooth 

The 33-year-old this morning told BBC’s Radio 4 that the NHS 111 service told him that unless he was struggling to breathe, then there was nothing they could do to help.

‘I phoned my dentist and they said they were closed and would put me on an emergency waiting list but I didn’t know how long that would take so I phoned 111 and they basically said that unless it was stopping me from breathing they couldn’t do anything. 

‘This wasn’t the case but the pain was excruciating, so I got an ice pack put it on my face until I couldn’t feel it anymore and the final tug, me and my son just went for it and it came out, it was quite tricky, I thought maybe 20 minutes but it took an hour and a half’. 

 Billy had to take drastic measure due to the shortage of urgent care centres open, and even some centres that are open are unable to perform some treatments due to a lack of PPE.

Prof Babak Javid, consultant in infectious diseases at Cambridge University Hospitals, told the PA news agency that ‘population mask wearing should be an important part of the response to Covid’.

He added: ‘Once Covid cases are largely suppressed, we can stop wearing masks, their incremental gain will be low. But now, to really benefit from masks, the majority of us need to wear masks.’

The differing advice on wearing masks could hamper the traffic light system which was revealed to have been in place to get the UK out of lockdown.

Schools could start returning within three weeks under the plan being pushed by senior ministers to ease lockdown misery – amid Cabinet splits over whether the government should risk more deaths from the disease to save the plunging economy.

The fledgling ‘exit strategy’ would see the country get back up in running in stages after May 11, with primary, GCSE pupils, and nurseries potentially going back part-time, despite concerns of protective equipment for such workers.

Meanwhile, clothes shops and garden centres could be among the ‘non-essential’ stores given a ‘green light’ to reopen with precautions to protect customers. Rail services would be brought up to normal levels, with commuters probably urged to wear facemasks, and the NHS would resume carrying out non-urgent procedures. 

A second ‘amber’ stage later in the summer would see more of the economy revived, with all employees told to go back to work and some social gatherings allowed. 

However, it might not be until later in the year that pubs and restaurants can reopen and sporting events get up and running. And over-70s face a ‘red light’ for many months more, potentially having to wait for a vaccine before going back to normal life.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who fought the virus in hospital had been apprehensive to ease the lockdown.

He has been issuing orders to First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who is deputising for him in public, as well as senior Downing Street advisors through a series of calls.

As it is not yet clear whether the traffic light plan will include compulsory use of face masks, other countries have been hailed for their response.

Already it is compulsory to wear masks while shopping or using public transport in Austria and parts of Italy, and those living in the Czech Republic and neighbouring Slovakia must wear masks whenever they go out.

So, which face masks will actually keep you safe?


Homemade mask (Stock image)

WHAT IS IT? From vacuum cleaner bags to sanitary towels and scarves, look online and you will discover that just about anything can be turned into a mask.

COVID-19 EFFECTIVE? A 2013 Public Health England study looked at the suitability of various household materials that could be used as masks to filter bacterial and viral aerosols — and vacuum bags came out well.

Aim for multiple layers — U.S. researchers found that a double layer of tightly-woven cotton with a thread count of at least 180 was one of the best barriers.

WHERE CAN I GET ONE? Search your house and see what’s already there.


The surgical mask (stock image)

WHAT IS IT? The disposable mask that you see surgical staff wearing. These 3-ply masks are fluid-resistant and prevent infected droplets from the surgical staff entering the respiratory system of the patient.

COVID-19 EFFECTIVE? Thin surgical masks protect from large airborne droplets, but won’t block very small particles that may carry the virus. Once wet their efficacy is reduced, which is why they are disposable. But they are considered to offer better protection than a cloth mask.

WHERE CAN I GET ONE? In short supply. The advice is that medical masks should be saved for medical professionals. We found a box of 50 for £65.99 on


DIY store mask (stock image)

WHAT IS IT? Dust masks and other disposable face masks all look similar, but levels of protection against particles that can pass through vary. If it says FFP1 then it’s a basic kind of dust mask (picture left).

COVID-19 EFFECTIVE? More protection than a surgical mask (only if it fits well). But with the lowest level of filtration for this kind of respirator mask (to meet European standards, they have to be able to filter at least 80 per cent of particles) it can’t filter out tiny particles associated with viruses and bacteria.

WHERE CAN I GET ONE? Normally at DIY stores from £1 a mask. Your best option is seeing if a local independent DIY store has stock and delivers.


Cycling mask (stock image)

WHAT IS IT? Neoprene anti-pollution masks. They contain an air filter to stop cyclists breathing in pollution in heavy traffic. But they are not regulated to the same standard as medical masks so protection levels can vary.

COVID-19 EFFECTIVE? While they are untested regarding coronavirus, they are intended to provide a layer of protection from airborne particles. Some are marketed as N95 or N99 grade (the U.S. equivalent to the European regulation rating: Filtering Face Piece, or FFP), which refers to airborne particles filtered — 95 or 99 per cent.

WHERE CAN I GET ONE? UK brand Cambridge Mask Company is taking pre-orders (pictured). Cycling masks are available from Amazon.

THE FFP3 mask

Medical-grade FFP3 mask (Stock image)

WHAT IS IT? Another respirator mask that eliminates even more small airborne particles than the N95/FFP2. FFP3 masks draw air through a filter embedded in the fabric that catches almost all airborne particles.

COVID-19 EFFECTIVE? Short of being a full-on gas mask affair, this is the best protection as long as it fits correctly. The mask blocks out 99 per cent of airborne particles.

WHERE CAN I GET ONE? In short supply, you can normally buy one at Wickes for under £3. The next step up is a heavy-duty reusable respirator used when spraying paint or chemicals — but not comfortable to wear all day.

Report by BETH HALE

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