Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, one of the UK’s most prominent scientists and President of the Royal Society, on Tuesday warned that the country is lagging behind others in the mandatory use of face masks to prevent the rapid spread of coronavirus.

Professor Venki, as the Indian-origin structural biologist is known, said that no one should leave home without a face covering and believes it is time that face masks in indoor public settings, where physical distancing is tougher, are seen in the same light as not driving when drunk or without seatbelts.

The U.K. is way behind many countries in terms of wearing masks and clear policies and guidelines about mask wearing for the public. The public have taken to handwashing and distancing but remain sceptical about face coverings, he said.

It used to be quite normal to have quite a few drinks and drive home, and it also used to be normal to drive without seatbelts. Today both of those would be considered antisocial, and not wearing face coverings in public should be regarded in the same way, he said.

Also read: Drunk people can’t socially distance: British police

Prof. Venki, who also chairs a committee of high-level experts to analyse emerging data from countries around the world to identify the most important factors that can help slow the spread of coronavirus as well as find long-term solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, believes that alongside hand washing and physical distancing, face coverings are equally crucial to prevent a feared second wave of the pandemic in Britain.

His message comes as a new review of evidence reinforces the benefits of face coverings and even suggests they may protect the wearer as well as those around them.

Lack of strict enforcement

However, the British public remain much less likely to wear face coverings in public compared to other countries, including the US and India. In the U.K., face coverings are only compulsory on public transport but even that rule is flouted often due to the lack of strict enforcement.

There are multiple factors as to why the public have not taken to face coverings. The message has not been clear enough so perhaps people do not really understand the benefits or are not convinced of them. Whatever the reasons, we need to overcome our reservations and wear face coverings whenever we are around others in public, he said.

Just treat it as another item of clothing that is part of the new normal and wear it whenever you cannot socially distance safely. It (is) the right thing to do, and a small price to pay, to help keep infections down and the economy open in the pandemic, he said.

His message comes as the Royal Society’s SET-C (Science in Emergencies Tasking — COVID-19) group published a joint report with the British Academy to reveal that wearing face coverings can help save lives and prevent disabling illnesses. In response to the use of non-medical, homemade cloth masks, the Royal Society’s work has been taking a closer look at their effectiveness in decreasing the risk of transmission of the virus and concludes they have an important role to play.

It was concluded that masks help prevent the spread of infection, along with physical distancing whenever possible, hand washing and cleaning of surfaces that will be touched by people.

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