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Refusal to wear a mask should be as taboo as drink-driving, says Royal Society chief

Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the UK's independent scientific academy, the Royal Society, has said that refusing to wear masks in public should become as socially unacceptable as drink-driving or not wearing a seatbelt. He has called for everyone to be required to wear a mask in all indoor public settings, rather than only on public transport, and criticised confused messaging from the government.

He backed up his call with the Royal Society's new evidence in to the effectiveness of masks, which found that they offer an important role in contributing to reducing viral transmission and also protecting the wearer. See full report here.

He also talked about his organisation's new behavioural knowledge findings on the UK's uptake on wearing masks, where the UK stood at around 25%, compared to Italy's 83.4%, 65.8% in the United States and 63.8% in Spain. See full report here

Ramakrishnan said: “Wearing a mask did not bother our Italian, French or Spanish neighbours; none of whom were used to wearing one before the pandemic, yet now do so routinely.

“So just treat it as another item of clothing that is part of the new normal and wear it whenever you cannot socially distance safely. It is the right thing to do, and a small price to pay, to help keep infections down and the economy open in the pandemic.”

“The message has not been clear enough, so perhaps people do not really understand the benefits or are not convinced of them. Whatever the reasons, we need to overcome our reservations and wear face coverings whenever we are around others in public.

“It used to be quite normal to have quite a few drinks and drive home, and it also used to be normal to drive without seatbelts. Today, both of those would be considered antisocial, and not wearing face coverings in public should be regarded in the same way.

“If all of us wear one, we protect each other and thereby ourselves, reducing transmission. We lower the chances of future surges and lockdowns which are economically and psychologically disruptive, and we increase the chance of eliminating the virus. Not doing so increases the risk for everyone, from NHS workers to your grandmother.”

Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford and lead author on the behavioural report said: “To understand why people don’t wear face coverings it is essential to examine behavioural factors such as the public’s understanding about masks and how to wear and re-use cloth coverings.  What is clear is that it isn’t the public’s fault for not wearing masks in the UK. Rather, consistent policies and effective public messaging is vital, which have even differed across England, Scotland and Wales. We have seen that people in countries like Italy, the US and Spain, without a previous history of mask wearing, have rapidly adopted face coverings during the COVID-19 period largely because the authorities provided them with a consistent policy and clear guidelines to understand why they should wear them.”

For the full story from the Royal Society, click here

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