Urgent development of national capacity to produce face masks of different grades

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is considering “airborne precautions” for medical staff after a new study showed that the coronavirus can survive in the air in some settings. According to WHO, coronavirus can go airborne, staying suspended in the air depending on factors such as heat and humidity.

The NHS guideline states “ Because it is a new illness, we do not know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person. Similar viruses are spread in cough droplets.” These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

In addition, there have been multiple cases and scientific confirmation that people without any symptoms could carry and transmit coronavirus. Data from Diamond Princess cruise ship indicated that 18%-30% of those who tested positive for coronavirus did not exhibit any symptoms. Hence, the only way to stop the transmission of coronavirus is for everyone including those who appear to be healthy to wear face masks when they are in public places such as supermarkets and public transport. This measure has proven to be critical in China in their battle to fight the deadly virus, particularly for those key workers who need to work in an environment that is hard to maintain adequate “social distancing”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he believes that the UK can "turn the tide" within the next 12 weeks. However, the shortage of adequate medical grade face masks for frontline medics has been repeatedly reported and there are serious shortage of suppliers in the UK where general public can buy adequate face masks to protect themselves against the virus. Four days ago, it was reported that French border guards impounded trucks filled with 130,000 face masks for the UK. In a national emergency like the one we are currently facing; it is essential for the UK to have its own supply of critical goods to avoid such incidents impacting our national security and safety. The government has acted promptly to encourage national industry to produce ventilators for the fight against Covid-19. We call for the government to act urgently to (1) recognise the importance of wearing face masks not only for the frontline medical staff but also for the protection of ordinary and vulnerable people from spreading and/or contracting the virus and (2) develop our national capacity to produce face masks of different grades for NHS and the general public to help ensure successful suppression of the outbreak.