Coronavirus: Government considering telling public to wear gloves, health minister says

Hand coverings ‘remain an area that we are looking at’, parliament told

Andy Gregory
Friday 24 July 2020 22:27
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The government is mulling whether to advise the public to wear gloves
The government is mulling whether to advise the public to wear gloves

The government is considering telling the public to wear gloves to prevent the spread of coronavirus, a health minister has revealed.

During a debate on coronavirus legislation in the House of Lords, Baroness McIntosh of Pickering asked: “Has the government formed a view on the use of gloves?

“Obviously we’re all following the guidance on washing our hands, but surely the correct use of gloves outdoors and indoors could prevent the passing on of the virus.”

Health minister Lord Bethell replied: “To date, gloves are not in the guidance but they remain an area that we are looking at.”

While the importance of hand-washing has been stressed heavily by both the NHS and the World Health Organisation (WHO) since the outset of the pandemic, experts are less united over the benefits of wearing gloves.

In March, the WHO advised against such measures, saying: “Regularly washing your bare hands offers more protection against catching Covid-19 than wearing rubber gloves.

“You can still pick up Covid-19 contamination on rubber gloves. If you then touch your face, the contamination goes from your glove to your face and can infect you.”

In early July, the EU’s Centre for Disease Prevention and Control concluded that “there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend the regular use of gloves”, warning that their regular use “may lead to the misconception that hand hygiene practices can be neglected”.

While the equivalent agency in the US concurs that wearing gloves is unnecessary in most settings, it advises using them when cleaning or caring for people who are ill, and washing your hands after taking them off.

Some experts also suggest that the act of wearing gloves in public may make us less inclined to spread the virus to our faces.

“There is considerable research that looks at how factors relating to the work process, worker behaviour, and the use of protective equipment all influence the transfer of hazards to the skin and mouth,” according to a study published in the journal Annals of Work Exposures & Health in May.

“For example, we know that workers wearing gloves are less likely to touch their face.”

“Anything that minimises hand-to-face contact will be beneficial,” lead author, John Cherrie, emeritus professor of human health at Heriot-Watt University, told The Daily Telegraph.

The revelation that ministers are mulling guidance on gloves came as face coverings became mandatory in English shops, after months of contradictory ministerial statements regarding their efficacy.

While some are unable to wear the protective gear for health reasons, others view the small cloth garment as an affront to personal liberty. As such, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda were among retailers who said they would not challenge customers failing to do so, insisting it was a matter for police.

But Police Federation chair John Apter said forces lack the capacity to ensure every person who enters a store is compliant, and urged shops to refuse entry to anyone not obeying the law.

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