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Column 4th November 2020

Masks are not all the same and they will cost more

In this week’s news it has been reported that Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, has refused to extend a VAT holiday on personal protective equipment. Face masks and gloves will cost more from the end of this month after the Treasury confirmed that a temporary waiver of VAT on personal protective equipment (PPE) would not be extended after the end of October. The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It is probably worth me setting out what the VAT relief on PPE was designed to do, and that was to accelerate supply to the health and social care sectors when supply did not match demand earlier this year. What it did was save them around £200 million when they needed it. "Prices and supply have now stabilised and we have committed to providing free PPE to every adult care home, who have been the main beneficiaries of this tax relief, until March 2021. Also, most businesses can recover any VAT that they will incur [when buying] PPE as business expenses." They don’t seem to care about the general public who must wear a face covering in shops and on public transport. Families can avoid paying more for personal PPE by using washable face coverings, which are also more environmentally friendly because they cut down on waste. Yet at the same time new research by the consumer organisation Which? found alarming differences in the effectiveness of widely-available reusable masks. The best performing face coverings were able to block more than 99 per cent of potentially harmful bacterial particles from penetrating the mask material - similar to the standard of surgical masks. Yet the worst masks only managed to block out a "paltry" seven percent - allowing 93% to escape. Which? found that there was a clear trade-off between breathability and how effective the mask was at filtering potentially harmful particles. In fact, the fabric masks that scored five out of five for filtration were also those that scored the lowest for breathability. So we can’t win –either breathe in bacteria or have difficulty breathing. The advice is to go for least two layers, preferably three and choose your material wisely – tightly woven cotton is a best with the worst being a single layer of mostly polyester. Ideally, a mask should be a mix of different fabrics and should fit well. Finally, make sure it is washed after use and don’t forget to wash your hands and keep your distance!

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