We have all had a lot of rules forced upon us lately.  

Some people are bending them; others are outright breaking them. However, the vast majority are trying to stick to the rules and do their bit to stop the spread by staying at home as much as possible. 

What is the government telling us?

Read through the government website and you will also see a lot of rules ending with ‘unless it is necessary’ or ‘if you cannot reasonably do so’. The problem with this kind of language is that it is open to interpretation — what some may consider ‘necessary’ or ‘reasonable’, others will not. There are also subtle variations on the restrictions depending on whether you live in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. So, it can be tricky to keep up.

What’s more, not everyone gets their information from the government website. By the time much of this information has reached the general public, it will have trickled through various news outlets, social media and friends of friends.

Is it any wonder that people are confused and ‘lockdown fatigue’ is starting to creep in?

Yet, three important words have remained consistent in government messaging.

Hands. Face. Space.

  1. ‘Wash your hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds’ (cleanliness and good hand hygiene are essential to minimising the spread of infection).
  2. ‘Wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult (and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet)’.
  3. ‘Stay two metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or one metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing a face mask)’.

Even with vaccines rolling out, these three core concepts remain the most effective weapon we have against the COVID pandemic. And these concepts will become even more critical now that we are staring down the road out of lockdown, and people will once again be coming into contact with each other.

The lockdown precautions have been effective — infection rates have dropped, and the R number is now below one. However, this could all change in a matter of weeks if we do not take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves from infection once we are back out in the world.

But is all the advice up to date?

While the basic message of ‘Hands. Face. Space.’ is undoubtedly the most important advice for people to remember, the instructions on how we should be implementing this are still falling short.

The UK Government still condones the use of face coverings — including a ‘scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering’ — and uncertified cotton masks. There is even still a tutorial on the website for making a DIY cloth face covering at home from scrap material!

These face coverings are not tested or proven to filter out virus particles. They have never claimed to be effective in protecting the wearer from infection. At best, they only reduce the risk of infected individuals spreading the virus to others through coughing and sneezing. Many people also do not wash their face coverings as recommended by the government guidelines, which can increase the risk of infection from a host of respiratory diseases, as well as COVID-19.

Yet, this advice has been in place more or less since the start of the pandemic. Why?

We seem to have forgotten, but right at the start of the pandemic, there was a mass panic, and people rushed to stock up on masks for personal use, which ultimately left our frontline workers in the NHS without supplies to protect them. As a result of the shortages, we were asked to wear reusable cloth face coverings instead whilst the NHS stockpiled Type-IIR medical masks and FFP2 respirators for use in hospitals.

Unfortunately, this led to a whole host of companies popping up touting cloth masks with no testing, standardisation or certification of effectiveness and lulled us into a false sense of security about using them.

The ‘medical masks’ some people still opt to wear are not as effective as we have been led to believe, either. Type-IIR certified masks are stated to have a 98% efficiency, but they are only tested for ‘bacterial filtering efficiency’ — bacteria are 20–30 times the size of viruses! Essentially, this means that their real ability to filter out COVID-19 particles is much, much lower.

As if this were not disappointing enough, they are also only tested for exhalation, so they are certified to stop the wearer from spreading infection but not to protect the user themselves. This is because medical masks are designed to stop healthcare workers from spreading infections to their patients. They are not classified as PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) outside of a medical setting.

Why has this not been corrected?

Now that NHS supplies are under control, there is no need for anyone to be wearing ineffective face coverings, yet they are still being promoted on the UK Government website.

This is in direct contrast to the WHO (World Health Organization) guidelines, which recommend wearing an N95 or FFP2 respirator-style face mask, which provides a more efficient filtration level for COVID-19 particles and a better seal around the edges of the mask. These high-quality respirator-style face masks are also tested for both inhalation and exhalation, meaning they are designed to protect the user AND those around them. 

In Austria and the German state of Bavaria,  wearing an FFP-rated mask on all public transport has been made mandatory to protect citizens from infection. On top of this, a fine has been put in place for anyone breaking these rules.

As it stands, only a small percentage of the UK population owns a mask designed to protect the wearer. This is a massive cause for concern when we are on the verge of allowing people back out into the public where they will once again come into contact with the virus.

Why are we so far behind, and how do we catch up in time?

There are several possible reasons for the UK being so slow to adopt the use of FFP2 masks. We have already seen environmental problems caused by the use of disposable masks, and disposable FFP2 masks create two to three times more waste material than their Type-IIR counterparts. This has the potential to wreak havoc on our landfills, beaches and oceans.

The other factor, and possibly the most impactful, is money. Firstly, FFP2 disposables are five to 10 times more expensive than the standard disposable medical masks we have become used to, which could make people reluctant to commit to using this higher level of protection. Many companies would also lose a lot of money if their cloth masks were suddenly deemed inadequate.

Fortunately, there is a more affordable option available, which offers the same high protection level as N95 or FFP2 respirator face masks at a fraction of the price. Instead of replacing the entire mask after each use, medical silicone face masks can be used with replaceable FFP2 filters, which are a lot more affordable than their disposable alternatives and create 80–90% less waste.

These respirator-style face masks are both reusable and sterilisable and made of medical silicone — a permanently antimicrobial surface that prevents contamination. The medical silicone also moulds to the user’s face over time, creating an increasingly more effective seal that promises less than 8% leakage.

Aside from using correct PPE, we should also not underestimate the effectiveness of good hand hygiene. Telling people to wash their hands regularly is all well and good, but what about those times when you do not have access to soap and water? When you are out and about, your best line of defence — alongside a reusable medical silicone face mask with replacement filters — is an effective hand sanitiser.

However, although there are plenty of ‘hand gels’ on the market, many of them do not work for viruses like COVID-19. Hand sanitiser needs to contain an alcohol percentage of at least 60% to kill germs, such as bacteria and viruses. WaivLength’s Steriline hand sanitiser gel with 75% alcohol can be used to effectively sanitise hands when there is no soap or water available. Plus, unlike many hand gels, the practical non-sticky formula contains glycerin, meaning it will not dry out the skin or cause irritation (even with frequent use).

We have all made big sacrifices during the lockdown, and as a result, the infection rate has dropped. What is now more vital than ever is that we take all the necessary precautions to make sure that stays the case. Otherwise, the lockdown was all for nothing.

Together with social distancing measures, these products enable you to follow the ‘Hands. Face. Space’ rules effectively and help stop the spread.

Stay safe, follow the rules and protect yourself and others with our range of products