Health

With England in lockdown 3, it’s time ministers got it right on face masks | Joseph Gardner Allen

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The attitude to masks has been inconsistent and laissez-faire – but they’re one of the easiest ways to reduce Covid transmission

Faced with a new, more infectious variant of the virus and a vaccination programme that won’t reach everyone until the autumn, the prime minister has suggested the government may have to tighten restrictions during England’s third lockdown. But ministers already have a simple tool at their disposal. Getting face masks right is one of the most important things we can do now to stop the spread of Covid-19.

In England, the attitude to face masks has been inconsistent at best and negligent at worst. Masks are required in shared public spaces such as supermarkets, though many workers have complained that customers aren’t wearing them, and enforcement has largely fallen on individual stores. In schools, the government inexplicably made masks mandatory in corridors but not in classrooms. To reduce transmission as much as possible, they should be worn throughout the school day.

Related: This is what an ‘overwhelmed NHS’ looks like. We must not look away | Christina Pagel

Joseph Gardner Allen is an associate professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard University and a director of its Healthy Buildings programme. This article was co-authored with Helen Jenkins an assistant professor of biostatistics at Boston University and William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard University

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