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expert comments about protests and COVID-19

There has been discussion in the media about the protests currently happening around the UK, and the possible implications for the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Prof Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine, UEA, said:

“This is a very important issue and people need to be able to show their opposition to what has been happening in the United States and their solidarity with the affected individuals.

“But any mass gathering does pose a risk of increased transmission of COVID-19 as was probably seen following the Cheltenham Festival and the Liverpool Athletico Madrid match in March. Any such transmission could not only affect the people attending the demonstration but also risk the lives of their family and friends.

“For people who still feel they have to attend then where possible people should continue to maintain social distancing. Where people are unable to maintain sufficient distance from other demonstrators they should consider wearing a face covering. I would recommend that people follow the latest WHO advice on face coverings:

“1. Anybody with symptoms compatible with COVID-19 must not attend the demonstrations under any circumstances. To do so puts the lives of other people at risk no matter what the cause and given the higher risk of death in BAME individuals it would not be a fitting memorial for the demonstrations to lead to more unavoidable deaths in this group.

“2. Vulnerable individuals and those over 60 should also not attend. But if they choose to ignore this advice they should wear a medical mask.

“3. Other asymptomatic individuals should preferably wear a face covering. However, any old cloth covering will not do. Any face covering should be made up of a minimum of three layers. Regarding the design of the face covering, WHO states that “The ideal combination of material for non-medical masks should include three layers as follows: 1) an innermost layer of a hydrophilic material (e.g. cotton or cotton blends); 2), an outermost layer made of hydrophobic material (e.g., polypropylene, polyester, or their blends) which may limit external contamination from penetration through to the wearer’s nose and mouth; 3) a middle hydrophobic layer of synthetic non-woven material such as polyproplylene or a cotton layer which may enhance filtration or retain droplets”.

“This current epidemic also raises the need for sensitive policing. Hopefully these demonstrations will pass off peacefully but in the event that this is not the case, any police action should avoid forcing crowds into tightly packed areas as this will cause even greater risk of disease transmission.”


Prof Keith Neal, Emeritus Professor of the Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases, University of Nottingham, said:

“The risk to the individual is difficult to ascertain but given it is outside with a wind this mitigates some risk but social distancing does not appear to be being maintained and therefore there will be significant degrees of contact time. Given there have been concerns raised about the increased risk to BAME people from COVID-19, this is something that needs to be considered. We will have to wait to see if one of the marches turns into a super spreading event.

“There is clear evidence that banning mass gatherings was one of the most effective and important part of the lockdowns across European countries. Any mass gathering risks significant numbers of further cases.

“These protests are not going to help keep transmission down but although individual risk may be low, the public health impact of a large number of possible transmission opportunities is the main concern.

“Any increase in cases might be detected in a week or two but this will require people to be tested and contact traced. Given our current data this is unlikely to be discernible if cases do increase and a political argument will arise if cases do pick up with one side blaming the marchers and the other lifting of restrictions.

“Maintaining social distancing of 2m or more is required to minimise the risk. The risk can NOT be fully eliminated.”



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