COVID Inquiry: No ‘Convincing Evidence’ Fabric Face Coverings Worked

The former deputy chief medical officer has said that thin cloth covering was not ‘particularly effective’ in slowing the spread of COVID-19.
COVID Inquiry: No ‘Convincing Evidence’ Fabric Face Coverings Worked
A child wears a mask as she has her temperature checked at the entrance to Alton Towers in Alton, England, on July 4, 2020. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Owen Evans
11/30/2023
Updated:
11/30/2023
0:00

There wasn’t any “convincing evidence” for fabric face coverings used in community settings, the official COVID-19 inquiry has heard.

Professor Dame Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer during the pandemic and now head of the UK Health Security Agency, told the COVID-19 Inquiry in her witness statement on Wednesday that the evidence base for using face masks in the community settings “was, and still is to some degree, uncertain.”
In government messaging during COVID-19, authorities wrote that evidence “suggests all types of face masks are effective in reducing transmission of COVID-19 in community settings.”

‘It Won’t Work’

UK Health Security Agency Chief Executive Jenny Harries attends a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on Oct. 20, 2021. (Toby Melville /Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
UK Health Security Agency Chief Executive Jenny Harries attends a press conference inside the Downing Street Briefing Room in central London on Oct. 20, 2021. (Toby Melville /Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Ms. Harries told the ongoing COVID-19 probe, which will cost around £100 million [$118 million], that the evidence for mask-wearing varied depending on what materials it was made from.

For example, a “one or two-layer cloth covering‘ is ’not particularly effective,” she said

“So even within the face covering, there’s a difference. If somebody doesn’t wear it appropriately, it won’t work,” she added.

“The problem we had there was that there appeared to be a view permeating through, and a real concern and risk, that it was being conceived that if you did one metre (social distancing) and you wore a face covering slung round your cheek, or whatever it might be, that was fine,” she said.

“So, there was a risk that in encouraging face (masks) people would stop doing the thing that was really important, which was distancing and all the other things.”

She also told the inquiry: “The first question was, shouldn’t you be encouraging this? There’s no harm.”

She said that an issue for her, as well as the former Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van Tam was that “we definitely shouldn’t be supporting something which was not evidence-based if it was going to promote a risk compensation.”

“Of course, face coverings, as I know you‘ll be aware, is a wholly polarised debate and it’s quite difficult to maintain a central position, if I’d said, ‘Don’t do any of this,’ somebody would have challenged back and said, ‘Well, surely there’s no harm,’” she said.

She added that her “main concern was it would have been conceived as a safer way of moving about just when we got through the first tragic wave of a pandemic.”
In March 2020, Ms. Jenny said that advice to wear a mask was “not a good idea.”

“For the average member of the public walking down a street, it is not a good idea,” she told the BBC.

“What tends to happen is people will have one mask. They won’t wear it all the time, they will take it off when they get home, they will put it down on a surface they haven’t cleaned,” she added.

‘Weak’

The Epoch Times has seen a Public Health Wales document which is used in employment tribunals when staff dispute masks, which points out surgical type cloth masks don’t work against Sars-Cov aerosols.

“Surgical masks do not protect against SARS-CoV aerosols, FFP3 masks should be worn if this level of protection is required, as stated in IPC03 Standard Precautions Procedure,” it says.

In Oct. the UK Health Security Agency released a report which said that the evidence base for the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), such as lockdown, social distancing, test and isolation, masks, the “rule of six,” travel and border restrictions, and more, was “weak.”

NPI, also known as “public health and social measures,” is any public health intervention not primarily based on medication.

The report looked at a total of 151 studies reporting on the effectiveness of NPIs implemented in the community to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in the UK. The report concluded that “there is a lack of strong evidence on the effectiveness of NPIs to reduce COVID-19 transmission.”

PA Media contributed to this report.