Experts have lab tested face masks used by NHS medics to try to stop patients giving them illnesses spread through the air like flu, ebola and other illnesses similar to coronavirus such as SARs.
The Health and Safety Executive uses a specialist machine that sprays water droplets at a person wearing a mask to accurately replicate being hit with a cough or a sneeze.
People wearing different types of mask were also sprayed five times from a metre away while breathing in. The same test was also done while standing still, walking towards someone and walking away to see how much, if any, of the spray got through.
Here are the best and worst performers:
Best – Mask respirator with filters – £22.99 from Screwfix
Chances of getting coronavirus: 100 times less likely than wearing no mask
Description: The NHS uses this kind of face mask to treat patients with the most dangerous airborne illnesses such as coronavirus, swine flu or ebola.
It has the highest level of protection because it filters the air and has a rubber mouthpiece meaning that no droplets from a cough or sneeze could get into the mouth or nose.
It also has multiple straps that ensure it is fitted tightly to a person’s head and face.
Safe bet – Mask respirator with no filter – £2.76 online
Chances of getting coronavirus: 78 times less likely than wearing no mask
Description: This cheaper face mask is designed to offer protection from gases, hazardous materials and a small amount of liquid.
If a coronavirus sufferer sneezed or coughed in your face while wearing it it would still offer good protection. But because the mask is smaller, particles from the virus could linger on the face. It would have to be disposed of after one use. It should not get wet.
Basic protection – standard surgical mask – 80p each online
Chances of getting coronavirus: Six times less likely than wearing no mask
Description: Surgical masks protect against large droplets, splashes and contact transmission with illnesses such as coronavirus.
But testing by the Health and Safety Executive found that when a sneeze landed on them traces were found inside.
The report on preventing the spread of swine flu says: ‘They should not be used in situations where close exposure to infectious aerosols [sneezes and coughs] is likely. This level of protection might not sufficiently reduce the likelihood of transmission via this route’.
Last resort – DIY mask using bra or a sanitary towel – cost FREE
Chances of getting coronavirus: Two times less likely than wearing no mask
In China people have used a female sanitary towel (left) or a bra – experts say a DIY mask is still better than nothing
Description: The coronavirus pandemic in China has led to masks being unavailable in many of the hotspot regions.
Desperate unable to buy face masks have deployed carved out melons, plastic bottles, even bras, sanitary towels and lettuce leaves
There was an increase in DIY masks Chinese health officials warned people not to re-use their protective masks after videos emerged of people boiling their surgical masks and hanging them up to dry.
A safety report by Cambridge University from 2013 said: ‘Our findings suggest that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection’.