Compulsory face masks in shops and trains slow the spread of coronavirus by over 40%, researchers find in best proof yet

THE COMPULSORY use of facemasks slows the spread of coronavirus by 40 per cent, according to a new German study. 

The research, published as a discussion paper for the Institute of Labour Economics, revealed that wearing a face mask in public could cut new Covid-19 cases by nearly half.

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The study was able to use the staggered introduction of masks in shops and on public transport across Germany as a natural experiment to test how effective the masks were.

Looking at the new cases in the days that followed the experiment, scientists found that there is “strong and convincing statistical support” that the masks “strongly reduced the number of incidences”. 

The researchers, from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the University of Southern Denmark, said that their study analysed the closest thing the world has had to a controlled experiment. 

On April 6 the German city of Jena introduced mandatory facemasks in shops and on public transport, and new infections dramatically decreased.

On April 20 Saxony followed the mandatory use and also saw a massive decrease in new infections.

Their analysis concluded that the apparent early improvements seen in Jena were not a coincidence. 


In the study, they wrote:” The early introduction of facemasks in Jena has resulted in a reduction of almost 25 per cent in the cumulative number of reported Covid-19 cases after 20 days.

 “The drop is greatest, larger than 50 per cent, for the age group 60 years and above.

“Wearing facemasks apparently helped considerably in reducing the spread of Covid-19.”

From Monday in England, it will be compulsory to wear face coverings on public transport and there have been calls to extend the rules to shops, which are set to reopen from next week. 

On June 5th Health Secretary Matt Hancock also announced that everyone working in a hospital must wear the masks to help stop the spread of the virus.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press briefing, Mr Hancock said "As the NHS reopens it is critically important to stop the spread.

"All hospital visitors and outpatients will need to wear face coverings.

"One of the things we have learnt is those in hospital are more likely to catch coronavirus whether they work in a clinical setting or not.

"All hospital staff will be required to wear type one or two surgical masks.”

But some scientists criticised the mandatory use of face masks on the grounds that there was still no evidence that masks helped stop the spread of the virus.

Other groups argue that without strong evidence, there was a clear plausible mechanism for how even homemade cloth masks could stop onward transmission through droplets.

Back in April, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is no evidence to support the use of face masks by the general population – and only people in health care settings should use them.

The UK government also issued guidelines that suggested their use in limited circumstances.

The NHS until April maintained there is “very little evidence” of their benefit outside of hospital but masks are compulsory in some countries

Prof David Heymann, who chairs the advisory group, said that the data from Hong Kong and the USA led to their review.

The infectious diseases expert, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said there is “no preconceived decision”.

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