With the government already confirming that face masks will be compulsory on public transport, expanding this to shops could lead to a reduction in the spread of Covid-19 by as much as 40 per cent, a study suggests.
German study carried out from a team at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz assessed the effect face coverings had on regional epidemics in Germany when they were made mandatory in shops and public transport in April.
The move slashed the number of new infections over the next 20 days by almost a quarter, rising to 40 per cent after two months.
The scientists said their study provided 'strong and convincing statistical support' that masks 'strongly reduced the number of incidences'.
It is the most compelling evidence yet for mandatory mask-wearing in the UK, after much toing and froing, ministers finally announced that masks will be compulsory for people using public transport in England. But there have been calls to extend the measures to include shops, which reopen next week.
In the latest study, scientists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the University of Southern Denmark analysed the central German city of Jena.
The city of over 100,000 people became the first in Germany to make it compulsory to wear masks in shops and on buses and trains on April 6.
The number of positive coronavirus cases recorded in the city fell by 13 per cent in the first 10 days and 23 per cent over the next 20 days. After two months the epidemic had shrunk by 60 per cent.
Writing in the study, published as a discussion paper for the Institute of Labour Economics, the scientists write:
'This is a sizeable effect. Wearing facemasks apparently helped considerably in reducing the spread of Covid-19.
'The most convincing argument stresses that Jena introduced face masks before any other region did so.
'It announced face masks as the first region in Germany while in our post-treatment period no other public health measures were introduced or eased. Hence, it provides the most clear-cut experiment of its effects.'
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The widespread use of face masks in Britain could keep the reproduction rate below one and stop a second wave of coronavirus, a study suggests.
Modelling by the universities of Cambridge and Greenwich found if half of Brits wore masks it would prevent the crisis from spiralling back out of control.
The researchers said mask-wearing by everyone was twice as effective at reducing R compared to only asking symptomatic people to use them.
But they warned current social distancing and lockdown measures were not suffice to stifle the spread of Covid-19.
Lead author Dr Richard Stutt, from Cambridge University, said: 'Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public.'
The UK's R rate is thought to be between 0.7 and 0.9 — but some experts estimate it has crept above 1 in the North West and South West of England.
The R represents the average number of people an infected patient passes the virus to and keeping it below 1 is crucial to prevent a second surge of the virus.