IT’S been six weeks since we went into lockdown and even though we have a long way to go until any normality is to return, it was so good to hear that the Scottish Government has started to consider what the future would look like for us when the time comes to ease restrictions.

To mask or not to mask? This topic has raised much controversy and debate over the past few months. Earlier this week the First Minister, ahead of the game, issued guidance on the wearing of face coverings in certain situations. This was met with a mixed reaction with the scientific advisory committee (Sage) refuting any benefits from such measures in the prevention of spread of Covid-19. This was until yesterday when the Prime Minister announced that face masks will now be part of the UK lockdown exit strategy.

As we look across the world at other countries where lockdown measures are starting to be eased, one thing that is clear from the images is that face masks appear to be the norm in these places so why has there been resistance thus far?

We know that coronavirus is spread via droplets which are sprayed into the air when infected people talk, cough or sneeze. These droplets can also be transmitted by an infected person onto objects, which when touched by a non-infected person, can transfer from their hands into the body through them touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

The measures taken so far to limit the spread of coronavirus have been effective and still stand. Hand washing with soap and water, using an alcohol based hand sanitiser and staying at home with social distancing are the most protective interventions we can make. Anything over and above this, that we can do to enhance that protection, should be layered on top.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) continues to advise that only those who are infected with coronavirus or those caring for people suspected to have the virus wear protective masks but does not advise these to be worn by the general public. The reasons for these are that they could offer a false sense of security causing the mask wearer to become more relaxed with the above infection control measures and therefore increase their personal risk. They may also be more likely to fiddle with their masks, not wear them correctly and become more lax about following social distancing.

To the contrary the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has advised that face coverings (ie. not medical grade masks) could help stop the spread of coronavirus by infected people who have not yet shown symptoms – which can take up to 14 days to develop. The mayor of London too has long been saying that the public should be using face coverings when out, so when Nicola Sturgeon gave her recommendations supporting this, it did come as a welcome piece of news to me.

Certainly, when a patient with any potential infectious disease comes to see me, I take as many precautions as possible to limit the transmission from them to me. We wear gloves, aprons and masks in order to protect ourselves. This is standard practice outwith pandemic times, so it only makes sense that in times where there is a deadly virus, the worst of our time, lurking outside, we take every precaution necessary to limit its spread? Masks may be helpful here.

The Scottish Government is now recommending the use of face coverings in some situations.

These do not need to be medical grade masks, rather they can be scarves or homemade cloth masks. The benefit is mainly to those entering enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult ie. in supermarkets or on public transport. It must be remembered however that face coverings are NOT a substitute for social distancing or hand washing, but are an optional addition for infection control. If you are making the decision to wear a face mask, it is critical that you learn how to wear it, much like how you learnt to effectively wash your hands. There are many videos online teaching you this.

Wearing a face covering involves learning how to put it on and off, continuing to wash your hands and avoiding touching it once it’s on. It is imperative to wash the mask at 60 degrees after each wear and important that you don’t share it with anyone else. There are certain people who are not advised to wear these, for example those suffering from asthma or children under the age of two.

While I understand the argument against wearing face masks, I believe that as long as people do not become overly confident, don’t start feeling invincible because they are wearing a face mask, and still adhere to all the previous measures, wearing a face mask can only be a good thing.

It will take a long time for us to adjust to our new normal as it continues to evolve however doing everything we can, to ensure we never have to go through a lockdown again, is in everyone’s best interests, so let’s do all we can to do this right.