Scottish Government minister slammed for sharing ‘misleading’ stats on face masks

Written by Chris Marshall on 21 July 2021 in News

Tory counterpart says she has ‘duty to call out fake news’

Credit: NurseTogether/CC BY-SA 4.0

John Swinney, the Scottish Government's minister for Covid recovery, has been criticised after sharing disputed statistics about face masks.

Swinney tweeted (pictured below) a graphic which indicates there is zero risk of catching coronavirus if two people are both wearing masks and stood 6ft apart. 

The Scottish Conservatives said the statistics were "misleading". 

According to the graphic shared by Swinney, the risk of getting Covid from an infected person falls by 98.5% if both parties are wearing a mask.

The risk disappears completely if both parties are also stood more than 6ft apart, according to the image.

Such claims have been widely shared on social media, but while there is good evidence that face coverings can slow the spread of the virus, claims about their percentage effectiveness are not substantiated.

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Swinney tweeted: "As we move to Level 0 in Scotland – marking good progress on our careful process of relaxing restrictions – this is a helpful graphic showing why we must use face coverings and keep our distance."

Tory health spokesperson Annie Wells said the claims in the graphic were "misleading".

She said: “It wrongly sends a message that there is no risk from Covid in certain circumstances and makes several claims that appear to be unfounded. This looks unnecessarily reckless coming from a senior SNP government minister. We’ve all got a duty to call out fake news and this misleading post blurs the well-intentioned message he seems to be trying to send that wearing masks can reduce the spread of the virus."

A study published last year by Oxford University's Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science concluded that cloth face coverings were effective in protecting the wearer and those around them when used alongside other measures such as social distancing and hand washing.

Meanwhile, a study published in The Lancet found social distancing of more than a metre can reduce the risk of being infected from 13% to 3%.

There is renewed debate over the effectiveness of face coverings after the easing of Covid restrictions from today.

In England, there is no longer a legal requirement to wear a face covering, although government guidance recommends their continued use in crowded places and on public transport.

However, the situation is different in Scotland where masks must still be worn in shops and on public transport.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon has said the rules on face coverings are likely to remain in place for some time.

Moving to level 0 means that people are allowed to meet indoors in groups of up 10 people from four different households. Hospitality venues will be allowed to stay open until midnight, and social-distancing guidelines will be amended to advise a distance of one metre.


About the author

Chris Marshall is deputy editor at PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @chrismarshll.

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