From necessity to luxury: The evolution of face coverings during COVID-19
Royal Mail Face Mask leaflet, 2021
Personal Protective Equipment – PPE – consists of clothing and accessories designed to protect the user from health or safety risks at work. Within the context of COVID-19, those most at risk are professionals working in the health and social care sectors. These people are likely to be in close contact with individuals who are symptomatic or particularly vulnerable to infection.
In March 2020, the government published guidance on the regulatory status of equipment being used to prevent COVID-19. They stated that:
Face coverings intended for use by the general public are not PPE or medical devices. As such they do not carry a CE/CE UKNI/UKCA mark and should not be sold or donated as PPE or medical devices.
The government offered Guidance for manufacturers and makers of face coverings to comply with the General Product Safety Regulations 2005. They also directed manufacturers to advice from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who stated:
During the pandemic, Public Health England (PHE) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that fabric masks and home-made face coverings had some effectiveness in preventing an infectious but asymptomatic wearer from spreading the disease, in some circumstances, when used alongside other more established measures (social distancing, handwashing etc.) but that there was no evidence that these types of face-covering could protect the individual wearer against infection.
Marketers are therefore advised to avoid implications that general face coverings are likely to protect the wearer from airborne infections, including COVID-19 unless they hold sufficient evidence to support such claims and be in a position to demonstrate that their products had been tested to, and meet PPE standards.