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Study predicts vastly reduced disease spread if even only half of Brits wore masks

The results of two mathematical modelling studies by the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich show that public use of face masks can lead to vastly less disease spread, flattened secondary and tertiary waves and the epidemic brought under control.

In fact, the modelling shows the R rate would plummet even with a covering that is just 75% effective and only worn by half of the population, as long as social distancing stayed in place and lockdown was eased gradually.

The researchers also found that mask-wearing by the whole population was twice as effective at reducing R compared to only asking symptomatic people to use them, and warned that the current lockdown measures and mask-wearing laws were not enough to reduce the spread of Covid-19. 

Lead author, Dr Richard Stutt from Cambridge University said: “Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public.

“In the UK, the approach to face masks should go further than just public transport. The most effective way to restart daily life is to encourage everyone to wear some kind of mask whenever they are in public. [This is] an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and re-opening economic activity long before there is a working vaccine.”

When asked about cultural or political issues stopping people from wearing masks, Professor John Colvin, co-author from the University of Greenwich, said: "There is a common perception that wearing a face mask means you consider others a danger. In fact, by wearing a mask you are primarily protecting others from yourself. The message needs to be clear, 'My mask protects you, your mask protects me'."

The UK's R rate is thought to be between 0.7 and 0.9 — but some experts estimate it has crept above 1 in the North West and South West of England.  

The R represents the average number of people an infected patient passes the virus to and keeping it below 1 is crucial to prevent a second surge of the virus.   

Read the full study here

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