Covid UK: Not wearing a face mask is a ‘moral’ choice, scientist insists

A dissenting government scientist has insisted that not wearing a face mask is a ‘moral’ choice in solidarity with children and disabled people amid warnings of a new so-called ‘culture war’ erupting over coverings as lockdown restrictions are scrapped from July 19.

Sociology professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the benefits of masks ‘have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak’.

The Nottingham Trent University academic said he would stop wearing a covering from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in ‘solidarity’ with various groups including ‘people with communication difficulties, whether auditory and unable to lip-read’ and ‘all the small children whose education has been disrupted by the lack of visual clues, especially in language development’.

Speaking to Sky News, Professor Dingwall said he accepted that others may take a different view but went on: ‘I will not allow them to suggest that I am less moral or caring and I will expect them to respect my choices as I respect theirs.’ 

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that mask laws would be axed – but sowed confusion after admitting that people would still be encouraged to wear coverings in ‘enclosed and crowded places’.

He confirmed that he would continue to wear a mask in certain scenarios out of politeness. Mr Johnson was echoed by Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, who said he would cover his mouth and nose when in crowded spaces, when asked to by a competent authority, or if he felt that not wearing a mask would make another person uncomfortable. 

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, added: ‘I’m exactly the same in terms of mask-wearing.’ 

Experts appear divided on whether people in England should be asked to continue to wear face masks after July 19, with Dr Laurence Aitchison, from the department of computer science at the University of Bristol, saying: ‘Our research has shown mask-wearing reduces the spread of Covid-19 by around 25 per cent if everyone wears them.’ 

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said he thought lifting face mask restrictions was fine, though people who are vulnerable may wish to take extra care as he warned Covid ‘will never go away’. 

But masks are controversial among anti-lockdown Tory backbenchers. Ex-minister Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of MPs, told the Telegraph newspaper ‘how easily we have forgotten that at the beginning of this crisis, the scientific advice was that the public shouldn’t wear masks’. 

As the coronavirus crisis reaches its latest crucial phase, it emerged:

  • Britain’s daily Covid hospital admissions have reached a four month high, rising by 50 per cent in a week;
  • Department of Health figures posted today also showed hospitalisations reached 406 on June 30;
  • Shops, pubs and airlines that continue mask rules after July 19 have a legal right to turn away customers;
  • Sajid Javid revealed the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate will not be dropped until August 16;
  • School bubbles to be scrapped but isolation rules for children of positive cases will stay in place until August;
  • Six of the ten areas worst-hit by Covid in Europe are currently in Scotland, according to data;
  • England and Wales recorded more deaths last year during pandemic than at anytime since the Spanish flu;
  • Leave voters are more willing than Remainers to ditch masks when laws demanding their use are scrapped.
Sociology professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the benefits of masks 'have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak'

Sociology professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the benefits of masks 'have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak'

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said he would cover his mouth and nose when in crowded spaces, when asked to by a competent authority, or if he felt that not wearing a mask would make another person uncomfortable

Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said he would cover his mouth and nose when in crowded spaces, when asked to by a competent authority, or if he felt that not wearing a mask would make another person uncomfortable

Sociology professor Robert Dingwall, who sits on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that the benefits of masks ‘have always been uncertain because the quality of the evidence in both directions is so weak’.  But Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said he would cover his mouth and nose when in crowded spaces, when asked to by a competent authority, or if he felt that not wearing a mask would make another person uncomfortable

A dissenting government scientist has insisted that not wearing a face mask is a 'moral' choice in solidarity with children and disabled people amid warnings of a new so-called 'culture war' erupting over coverings as lockdown restrictions are scrapped from July 19

A dissenting government scientist has insisted that not wearing a face mask is a 'moral' choice in solidarity with children and disabled people amid warnings of a new so-called 'culture war' erupting over coverings as lockdown restrictions are scrapped from July 19

A dissenting government scientist has insisted that not wearing a face mask is a ‘moral’ choice in solidarity with children and disabled people amid warnings of a new so-called ‘culture war’ erupting over coverings as lockdown restrictions are scrapped from July 19

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that mask laws would be axed - but sowed confusion after admitting that people would still be encouraged to wear coverings in 'enclosed and crowded places'

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that mask laws would be axed - but sowed confusion after admitting that people would still be encouraged to wear coverings in 'enclosed and crowded places'

At a Downing Street press conference on Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that mask laws would be axed – but sowed confusion after admitting that people would still be encouraged to wear coverings in ‘enclosed and crowded places’

Britain's daily Covid hospital admissions have reached a four month high, rising by 50 per cent in a week. Department of Health figures also showed hospitalisations reached 406 on June 30

Britain's daily Covid hospital admissions have reached a four month high, rising by 50 per cent in a week. Department of Health figures also showed hospitalisations reached 406 on June 30

Britain’s daily Covid hospital admissions have reached a four month high, rising by 50 per cent in a week. Department of Health figures also showed hospitalisations reached 406 on June 30

Do face masks work? Studies find coverings reduce spread of Covid and chance of inhaling infected droplets

Most scientific studies conducted to date suggest face masks do reduce the spread of coronavirus in enclosed indoor settings.

A number of studies have concluded that face coverings reduce the spread of airborne droplets that carry covid bacteria between people.

The latest data, from the Lancet, studies in China and Thailand as well as on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, suggests a mask stops up to 80 per cent of droplets from being released into the air by a person wearing a mask, and they also block around 50 per cent of them being inhaled by a potential victim.

Covid-19 is spread through these airborne droplets when people cough, sneeze or talk – and standing in close proximity can assist transmission. 

The US Centers for Disease Control found in one real-world data experiment the coverings were useful. Two hair stylists who had Covid symptoms worked on 139 customers in eight days.

Everyone involved wore masks and no one out of the 67 who volunteered to be tested came back positive. Another experiment in China looked at 124 houses where there had been a case of the virus.

It found transmission was reduced by 79 per cent by wearing a face covering. And an example also came from the USS Theodore Roosevelt – a cramped vessel with tight living quarters and makes social distancing hard.

But the study found when using face coverings there was a 70 per cent reduced risk of infection. Meanwhile in Thailand a retrospective case-control study discovered out of 1,000 spoken to during a contact tracing probe, those who said they wore a covering had a 70 per cent reduced chance of catching Covid.

And the Lancet in its report looked at 172 studies from 16 countries and concluded wearing a mask gives a person just a three per cent chance of getting the virus. Edinburgh University looked into the different types of masks people can wear and found homemade ones can be effective.

Researchers tested seven types, including surgical masks, respirators, lightweight and heavy-duty face shields and handmade masks. All of them – except ones with a valve – reduced the distance droplets could get by at least 90 per cent.

The CDC says: ‘Experimental and epidemiological data support community masking to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. The prevention benefit of masking is derived from the combination of source control and wearer protection for the mask wearer.

‘The relationship between source control and wearer protection is likely complementary and possibly synergistic, so that individual benefit increases with increasing community mask use,’ the agency added.

The WHO says: ‘Masks should be used as part of a comprehensive strategy of measures to suppress transmission and save lives; the use of a mask alone is not sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection against COVID-19.

‘If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, stay safe by taking some simple precautions, such as physical distancing, wearing a mask, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding crowds, cleaning your hands, and coughing into a bent elbow or tissue. Check local advice where you live and work. Do it all!’

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Scientific evidence suggests that face coverings worn over the nose and mouth reduce the spread of coronavirus droplets from coughs, sneezes and speaking. The main purpose is to protect others from Covid, but there is some evidence they also protect the wearer.

One Royal Society report last summer found that the use of cotton masks was associated with a 54% lower odds of infection in comparison with the no-mask groups, when tested in a healthcare setting.

In another study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists calculated that wearing face coverings prevented more than 78,000 infections in Italy between April 6 and May 9 2020, and more than 66,000 infections in New York City over just a few weeks.

Earlier on Monday, Nikki Kanani, primary care director for NHS England, told Times Radio that masks work.

She said it was ‘really important that people follow the guidance that’s there at the time’, adding: ‘That’s what I will be doing, that’s what I’ll be advising our teams to do.

‘The guidance does come from Government, but I think one of the things that we know is, masks work.

‘So let’s see what the announcements are but certainly, if there is advice to keep wearing masks, I know I will and I’ll be encouraging others to do so as well.’

Asked whether this was offering contradictory advice, she said: ‘The decision is for Government in terms of the final guidance but that’s certainly where we focus, and that’s what’s been an important part of the way that we’ve worked, having our masks on, and making sure our communities are wearing their masks as much as possible, and that’s what’s keeping us safe and well.’

Meanwhile, Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours which advises the Government, called for ‘support and proportionate mitigations to keep us safe’ from coronavirus.

Asked if he was more concerned about the Government’s messaging around the pandemic or the requirement to wear facemasks potentially being dropped, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think both.

‘I think we need very clear messaging and I think in certain spaces, crowded, badly ventilated spaces, masks are crucial mitigation.’

Elsewhere, Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told Sky News he may continue to wear a mask after July 19.

He said: ‘I probably will in some settings, but it’s got to be remembered that the mask-wearing is primarily to stop transmission rather than acquisition, so it’s people that have got symptoms, who should really be staying at home, that are going to be the risk here, rather than the people walking around who are double-vaccinated. They’re far less at risk.’

Prof Semple said the link between severe disease and hospital admission is ‘being broken from the cases in the community’, adding that people in hospital at the moment were mostly unvaccinated and were not critically ill.

On Monday, care minister Helen Whately said she expects the requirement for facemasks in health and care settings to continue after July 19.

‘I’ll be looking at the guidance, I’ll be making a judgment, but I’m not keen to wear one when I don’t need one – personally, it’s not something I enjoy doing,’ she told Times Radio.

‘But I’m also really aware that there will be circumstances, I’m expecting to continue in health and social care clearly, where people will need to continue to wear PPE (personal protective equipment), which includes masks.’

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and Chancellor Rishi Sunak have both said they plan to stop wearing masks when it is no longer legally required.

It comes as lawyers warned that shops, pubs and airlines that continue mandatory mask rules after July 19 have a legal right to turn away customers who refuse to wear a face covering.

Legal experts warned owners can enforce them regardless of the government’s rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act.

Stores would be in breach of the law if they are prejudicial against someone who cannot wear a mask because of a medical condition or disability, but otherwise private firms are free to set their own rules. 

Westfield is among the stores which has already said it will ‘encourage’ customers to wear coverings after ‘Freedom Day’ but will not insist on it. But Sainsbury’s has adopted a more relaxed approach saying it will ‘respect and support the individual choices the customers and colleagues want to make’. 

Airlines including British Airways, Ryanair and easyJet said they will also keep coverings mandatory after the date. And train workers’ unions are pushing for the mask measures to remain compulsory after restrictions are eased.

Meanwhile a major pub chain said it will still encourage coverings, social distancing and table service to ‘avoid a scrum at the bar’.

One lawyer pointed out businesses could insist staff wear them after July 19 for fear of a worker taking them to a tribunal under health and safety legislation if an outbreak leads to serious illness such as long Covid or death.

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers, said bosses have a legal duty to protect the health of their staff and the burden of safety has grown amid the pandemic. 

Legal experts warned owners can enforce mask wearing regardless of the government's rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act (file photo)

Legal experts warned owners can enforce mask wearing regardless of the government's rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act (file photo)

Legal experts warned owners can enforce mask wearing regardless of the government’s rules as long as they are not guilty of discrimination under the Equality Act (file photo)

What do the biggest businesses say about masks?

Shops

  • Sainsbury’s: Chief Executive Simon Roberts said: ‘I think in the end it will come down to the choices that individual customers and colleagues want to make. It is going to be driven by customer and by colleague choice.’ He added: ‘We’re clearly going to follow the Government advice, we’ll continue to listen to our customers and colleagues and we’ll respect and support the individual choices the customers and colleagues want to make.’
  • Westfield: Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, said: ‘At the moment we actively ensure our guests are wearing masks when they’re visiting the centre, and with the changes post July 19 we will continue to encourage guests to wear masks when they’re coming into the centre.’
  • Asda: Asda says it is waiting for the government guidance to change before announcing its role.

Airlines

  • British Airways: BA is expected to keep masks, with a spokesman saying: ‘We keep our policies under constant review.’ 
  • Tui: The firm hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.
  • Ryanair: A spokesman said: ‘In order to protect the health of our customers and crew, the use of face masks will still be mandatory across all Ryanair flights.’
  • easyJet: A spokesman said: ‘At present there are no changes to easyJet’s on-board mask policy. We continue to be guided by our in-house medical adviser and a number of key industry governing bodies… and at present their guidance around the wearing of masks on board remains unchanged.’
  • Virgin Atlantic: The firm hinted travellers could be required to wear face coverings after restrictions relax further.

Pubs

  • City Pub Group: Chief Executive Clive Watson said staff will be asked to wear masks with customers encouraged to do the same.
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Retail and transport worker unions also insist that making mask wearing mandatory is essential for their members’ health and ‘is not merely a personal choice’ because shop workers have no choice but to come into contact with the public. 

Nevertheless Steven Mather, consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, noted employers would be able to sack staff who refuse to wear a mask because it is a ‘a reasonable instruction’ and this would overrule the government’s slackened rules.

Mr Mather, a consultant solicitor for Nexa Law, told MailOnline as long as a business is not being discriminatory they can enforce the rule in their stores.

He said: ‘If a shop keeper or other premises owner wanted to continue to require customers to wear masks, they would be entitled to do so provided that they did not discriminate on certain grounds set out in the Equality Act.’

He continued: ‘Ultimately, a shop is private property and so I would suggest that the owner could do what they wanted on masks.

‘A shop can refuse entry to any one on any grounds – except discrimination – and so the same would apply to a non-mask wearer – they could refuse them entry.’

He added: ‘The handing back to the public of this moral responsibility actually causes more problems than the legislation did.

‘Wear a mask or don’t wear a mask will become one’s own decision, and therefore it is difficult to see shops and public places having the same mandatory rules.

‘It would be better for shops just to say that we ”support the government guidance and recommend mask wearing in store” but then not enforce it and leave people to make their own mind up.’

Maria Chadwick, partner in the employment and discrimination department at Stephensons, said: ‘The easing of the face mask requirements, as the position is understood, will do away with any legal requirement to wear a face covering in public spaces and as such, will limit further the power of businesses and service providers to attempt to enforce it in accordance with any government issued guidance.

‘However, as the guidance will no longer be in place, it could give more scope for businesses to implement their own policies, theoretically giving them more freedom to do so on their own terms.

‘However, if their policies incorporated a blanket requirement for the wearing of face coverings on their premises with no provision for medical exemption – the same risks as are run in respect of potential discrimination claims being brought against them by way of failure to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled customers.’

Luke Gittos, a partner at Murrays Partnership, added: ‘There is no legal right to be served in a shop. These are private enterprises who can, in theory, refuse to serve whoever they choose.

‘They could, in theory, get into trouble if they refuse to serve someone because of a ‘protected characteristic’ under the Equality Act– for example, if they were not wearing a mask because of a disability.

‘But in general there is nothing illegal in a shop refusing service to someone who refuses to wear a mask. We can only hope that after the 19th of July, shop owners will appreciate that people have their own view on mask wearing which should be respected.’

Toby Young, editor of Lockdown Sceptics, pointed out it is going to be difficult for stores to force people to wear masks.

He said: ‘It’s going to be very difficult for shops to insist people wear masks. At the moment, people can simply announce that they’re mask exempt and shops aren’t legally allowed to ask for proof and if they refuse someone entry on the grounds that they’re unmasked they could be in breach of anti-discrimination law.

‘After July 19th it’s going to become even harder, because many people will simply refuse to wear masks, whether they have a disability or not.

‘And if some shops don’t insist on masks, which they won’t, any shop insisting on a mask will be at a competitive disadvantage. The easiest thing will be for all shops to drop the insistence.’

Leading retailers this morning came out and suggested they would continue to want face coverings on shoppers, but would not enforce it.

Jacinta Rowsell, general manager at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, told Today: ‘At the moment we actively ensure our guests are wearing masks when they’re visiting the centre, and with the changes post July 19 we will continue to encourage guests to wear masks when they’re coming into the centre.

‘We have a number of Covid secure measure that we take and again we will continue to offer these in the form of ticketless. We are very aware and very focused on the fact that guests coming to the centre want to feel safe.

‘They are our priority as are our retailers and our staff, where possible we would be encouraging the wearing of masks when people are coming into the centre.’

Doom-monger ex-Chief Scientific Adviser Sir David King warns scrapping lockdown ‘in one go’ on July 19 is ‘very, very risky’ and claims the number of Covid deaths will rise ‘within three weeks’ – even though most adults have received vaccine 

A former Chief Scientific Adviser has warned that the decision to remove most lockdown measures on July 19 is ‘very, very risky’ and claimed that the number of people dying with coronavirus will rise dramatically within three weeks – despite most adults being vaccinated. 

Sir David King, the chairman of so-called Independent SAGE, said he was shocked to learn that Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to scrap restrictions including compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing in England from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in two weeks.

Giving a gloomy prognosis to Sky News today, he also warned that hundreds of thousands of people could ‘suffer life shortening’ due to the effects of so-called ‘long Covid’.

Sir David said: ‘I just actually can’t quite believe that in one step we will remove all of the requirements that have been placed on us, including wearing face masks when indoors, when on trains etc – public transport, including not having children aged 12 to 18 vaccinated.

Sir David King, chairman of the so-called Independent SAGE, said he was shocked to learn that Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to scrap restrictions including compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing in England from the so-called 'Freedom Day' in two weeks

Sir David King, chairman of the so-called Independent SAGE, said he was shocked to learn that Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to scrap restrictions including compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing in England from the so-called 'Freedom Day' in two weeks

Sir David King, chairman of the so-called Independent SAGE, said he was shocked to learn that Boris Johnson is pushing ahead with plans to scrap restrictions including compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing in England from the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ in two weeks

‘All of this seems a very, very risky way forward to me, so I think what we will have to expect is that after July 19 we will see the doubling rate of the disease, which is currently nine days – that we may well see it go up shorter, and this would be despite the fact that more people will have been vaccinated. 

‘There’s another problem with this very sharp rise in the numbers. What we must also anticipate within three to five weeks of this sharp rise is a sharp rise in the number of people dying per day. Now all of this seems to me very risky, but the third risk is long Covid. 

‘So at the moment we know that roughly one million people in the country have suffered from long Covid, which means they have had Covid symptoms for more than 12 weeks. But of those, 385,000 have had Covid for more than 12 months. 

‘Now this is really rather terrifying, so we musn’t just focus on the number dying. We must look at the long-term impact on these otherwise would-be healthy people who just haven’t been able to shake this off – and these people will suffer from life shortening due to the impact this has on their inner organs, their lungs. 

‘So I think if we take it all in all, it just seems to me to be very, very risky after this long period again of lockdown. So I think yes, vaccination is extremely successful, but for a government to rely on one means of managing this epidemic to me seems really quite remarkable. It’s a very risky programme.’

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