MASK MANDATES were re-imposed in England on the 30th November 2021, making it unlawful for people to enter shops and public transport without wearing a face covering, and thereby bringing England broadly into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. In light of those changes, now since reversed, it is timely to revisit the question as to whether masking healthy people was an appropriate intervention in the ongoing battle against Covid-19.
The fact that – between the 19th July and the 30th November – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all had mask mandates in place while England did not, provides a useful opportunity to examine a naturalistic experiment by comparing how each country faired during this period.
Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) provides direct comparisons of the prevalence of Covid-19 in each country.
For the week ending 20th November, the ONS estimated that 1-in-65 people in England had Covid-19, while the equivalent figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were 1-in-70, 1-in-50 and 1-in-50 respectively. So after 19 weeks of no mask mandate, England recorded slightly more cases than Scotland, but notably fewer cases than Wales and Northern Ireland. Overall, based on this data, it would be reasonable to conclude that masking the healthy does not achieve any appreciable reduction in the risk of contracting Covid-19 infections.
A more striking illustration of the ineffectiveness of mask mandates is obtained by comparing the positivity rates of PCR tests in Scotland and England over the last 12 months. As can be clearly ascertained from the chart below, England’s lifting of the legal requirement to wear a face covering on the 19th July 2021 was not followed by any evident increase in people testing positive for Covid-19, and it is clear that England did not suffer higher case rates than Scotland in the aftermath of the easing of restrictions. In the words of Jim Naismith (Professor of Structural Biology at the University of Oxford), ‘the ONS survey results on prevalence shows that the Scottish and English approach to masking, although formally different since July, has made no meaningful difference to Delta’
The findings of this naturalistic comparison of UK countries lends further support to the conclusion that face coverings for healthy people do not achieve any significant reduction in viral transmission.
For more information regarding masks, including evaluations of efficacy and the range of harms associated with their wear, please visit https://smilefree.org/.
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Dr Gary Sidley has over 30 years of experience in the NHS specifically as a consultant clinical psychologist.