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Wearing face masks can protect vulnerable people, says new research

Wearing face masks while on public transport and in shops or other shared public spaces could help protect vulnerable people against coronavirus, according to new research from the University of East Anglia.

However, the researchers say the evidence is not strong enough to recommend widespread use of masks in the general population. The researchers evaluated all the available evidence to see what the best advice for people is but due to the rapid-response nature of this research, it has not yet been peer-reviewed.

They looked at 31 studies that had analysed whether wearing face masks stopped people getting symptoms and found that masks had a consistent but small protective effect – particularly in shared public spaces.

Study author Prof Paul Hunter from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, and an expert in infectious diseases, said: “There has been a lot of debate about whether wearing a face-mask could help protect people from COVID-19 and reduce the spread of the disease.

“We wanted to evaluate all the available evidence to see what the best advice for people is.

“We studied when respiratory symptoms appeared that were similar to COVID-19 – fever and cough or sore throat. But it’s important to remember that we have not been able to look specifically at COVID-19 because there have been no specific studies to date.”

Researchers believe the evidence is enough to support the use for vulnerable people wearing them for short periods when in temporary higher risk situations – such as on public transport, visiting shops or in healthcare settings.

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