Should you wear a face mask in the supermarket? This is the official advice

Face masks are becoming a more common sight in supermarket aisles during the coronavirus lockdown, but how effective are they at preventing the spread of COVID-19 and should you be wearing one?

By Robert Cumber
Monday, 20th April 2020, 2:26 pm

Other countries including Germany have told people to wear masks on public transport and in shops, with some governments making their use mandatory.

While there’s little evidence to suggest they are effective at protecting those wearing them, it is widely believed they could help prevent people with the virus who are asymptomatic from spreading the infection.

AS supermarket shopper wearing a mask in Finland (Photo by OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images)

In the UK, the Government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, recently said it was reviewing the evidence around their use in the community.

“The evidence on masks is much more persuasive for masks stopping you giving it to somebody than it is for preventing you catching it,” he told reporters.

According to Public Health England, while masks play a ‘very important role’ in hospitals, there’s ‘very little evidence of widespread benefit’ from their use outside clinical settings.

“Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly and disposed of safely in order to be effective,” it adds.

The World Health Organisation says studies have shown medical masks can prevent the spread of infectious droplets from somebody with the virus but there is no evidence that wearing a mask in the community protects healthy people from infection.

It warns that medical masks should be reserved for clinical settings to ensure there are enough to meet demand, and says their use in the community could create a ‘false sense of security’, making people less likely to practise good hand-washing and physical distancing.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says using face masks in public may help reduce the spread of the virus and could be considered when visiting grocery stores or using public transport.

But it states this should only be done as a complementary measure, alongside physical distancing, thorough hand washing and avoiding touching the face.

Should their use be recommended or made compulsory, it says an education campaign would be needed to ensure they are used effectively.

Where face masks are used, it says wearers must ensure:

- the mask covers your face from the bridge of the nose down to your chin

- you clean your hands before putting the mask on or taking it off

- you remove the mask from behind, taking care not to touch the front

- if it is disposable, you dispose of it safely

- if it is reusable, you wash it as soon as possible after each use, with common detergent at 60C

Some shoppers have asked whether supermarket assistants should be wearing masks to protect themselves and customers.

ASDA says it has decided not to issue masks to workers for several reasons, including the shortage of supply for non-clinical settings and the need for training to ensure their use would not lead to a greater risk of infection.