Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19: Should the public wear face masks?

Covid-19: Each discarded face mask is a potential biohazard

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 21 May 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2012
  1. James H Bamber, consultant anaesthetist,
  2. Tracey Christmas, consultant anaesthetist
  1. Department of Anaesthesia, Cambridge University Hospitals, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK
  1. jhbamber{at}

Javid and colleagues say that “population benefits are plausible and harms unlikely” if the public are encouraged to wear face masks.1 In one week (17-24 April) both of us, however, came across discarded surgical face masks on public roads on our way to work. On a single day, one of us (TC) came across six discarded masks on a cycleway. This is before any encouragement from the government for the public to wear masks. Each of these discarded masks represents a potential biohazard2 that must be managed in a similar way to discarded hypodermic needles and syringes.

Other concerns—such as contamination by touching the mask then touching other surfaces and fomites—have already been highlighted. Additionally, the value of masks to protect other members of the public is diminished if they are incorrectly worn. As anaesthetists we have seen other health professionals in our hospital wear masks in a variety of ways—below the nose, on the chin—because of the discomfort they cause.3 Why should we expect the public to exhibit greater care in their mask wearing to ensure that the benefits outweigh the risks?


  • Competing interests: None declared.

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