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Fact check: Face masks advised as part of package of measures to slow COVID-19 transmission

A social media post shared widely suggests that either masks don’t work or COVID-19 case counts in the United Kingdom are “fake”. This is misleading. Face coverings were not promoted as the solution to preventing all coronavirus transmission and there is no evidence that COVID-19 case numbers recorded by the UK government are fake.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

The post reads: “96% of Britons are wearing face masks, but ‘cases’ are at record levels. Either masks don’t work or cases are fake.” (here)

It is unclear where the 96% figure comes from. A September YouGov poll found that only 71% of Britons said they had worn a face mask in the past two weeks to prevent COVID-19 (here) and online survey results from Statista found that, as of Jan. 10, more than 11% of respondents said that they never wore a face mask outside their home (here).

Regardless of the exact number, the wearing of face masks is intended to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and is not believed to be a sufficient measure alone to eliminate the disease.

A Royal Society study found that face coverings were effective in reducing the spread of the virus, both for the wearer as well as those around them (here). However, the study cautions: “Face masks and coverings cannot be seen in isolation but are part of ‘policy packages’ and it is imperative to review interrelated non-pharmaceutical interventions in tandem including hand hygiene, sanitizers and social distancing when maintaining the 2 metre or 1 metre+ distancing rule is not possible.”

The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends masks for their role as a barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from entering into the air and onto others, citing dozens of studies (here). However, they also warn that “a mask is NOT a substitute for social distancing. Masks should still be worn in addition to staying at least 6 feet apart, especially when indoors around people who don’t live in your household.” (here)

The UK government guidance on wearing face coverings says: “It is important to follow all the other government advice on coronavirus.” (here)

Some authorities (here), doctors (here) and media companies (here) have used a “Swiss Cheese” model to visualise how protections against COVID-19 work: each line of defense has holes in it, like a slice of swiss cheese, but multiple layers make it increasingly less likely for something harmful to pass all the way through. “The holes (or weaknesses) in any single layer of protection will be offset by the strengths of another layer of intervention,” a Texan public health department said of the model. (here)

There is no reason to believe that the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Kingdom have been faked. Recorded deaths from COVID-19 in the United Kingdom (here) strongly support reports that there is a surge in COVID-19 cases.

VERDICT

False. Surveys suggest less than 90% of British people wear face masks. Face masks are proven to be effective in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, but are not believed to be sufficient to eliminate COVID-19 without other measures. There is no evidence that the surge of COVID-19 cases reported in the United Kingdom are “fake.”

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here .

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