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Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health science at the University of Oxford, was accused of ‘whipping up hysteria and anxieties’ after suggesting joggers should wear masks while exercising outdoors
Runners should wear masks when they jog past other people, a leading expert suggested today.
Professor Trish Greenhalgh, an expert in primary health care at Oxford University, said ‘puffing and panting’ runners should wear coverings because they can transmit Covid to people they pass on the street.
But an infectious disease expert at Public Health England accused her of ‘whipping up hysteria’ because forcing joggers to wear mask would be a disproportionate response to the amount of risk they pose.
Face coverings were first made mandatory for public transport in June and later for shops and other indoor spaces, after heated debates about whether they actually slow the spread of Covid.
But they remain optional in outdoor spaces, with evidence suggesting coronavirus is less transmissible outside.
The debate comes after a Public Health England boss said facemasks with at least two or three layers are more effective at reducing the spread of the virus.
Dr Susan Hopkins told last night’s Downing Street press conference the ‘more layers you have the better’ — but the current guidance is to wear a single mask with at least two or three layers.
Speaking on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today, Professor Greenhalgh cautioned that symptomless joggers can breathe coronavirus on to others when they run past, if they are not wearing a covering.
She said: ‘There is no doubt the virus is in the air. There is no doubt you can catch it if you inhale air that someone else has exhaled.
‘The exercising jogger, the puffing and panting jogger, you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes actually feel yourself inhale it. So there’s no doubt that there is a danger there.
‘The other thing to say is that 40 per cent of Covid cases happen by catching it form people who have no symptoms.
‘So you’re jogging along, you think you’re fine and the next day you’ve developed symptoms of Covid but you’ve actually breathed that Covid on to someone. You know an old lady walking a dog or something like that.
‘I think it’s very important to be socially responsible.’
Professor Greenhalgh says symptomless joggers can breath Covid on to others as they run past if they are not wearing a covering. Pictured: A jogger wearing a face covering runs in St James’s Park in central London on February 24
Professor Devi Sridhar, a public health expert at the University of Edinburgh, added runners and cyclists should wear masks in crowded outside areas.
But she added that runners could ‘take off your mask and run freely’ when they are not surrounded by swathes of strangers.
Professor Sridhar, who advises the Scottish government on Covid, told ITV: ‘It really depends how close they are to you and how heavily they’re breathing.
‘This can spread through the air and so it is important that runners should think – I do think where am I running and I’m trying to be attentive to pedestrians because the sidewalks are there for pedestrians in busy areas and high streets.
‘[When] you’re out in the park, take off your mask and run freely.
‘I think we need some consideration for each other right now. We’re in a pandemic and just, you know, think how it feels for other people.
‘So if you’re going to cycle in a busy area, wear a mask.’
Professor Greenhalgh added: ‘I’ve got a mask here and you can pull it up and pull it down and that takes two seconds to do.
‘So wear it when you’re going along, jogging on the high street. Take it off when you get to the parks, what I did this morning. It’s not difficult.’
She also said that the World Health Organization had ‘dragged its feet’ over mask wearing.
Professor Greenhalgh said: ‘I’m not sure that particular recommendation does represent expert opinion, there’s no doubt that the virus is in the air, there is no doubt you can catch it if you inhale air someone else has exhaled.
‘The puffing and panting jogger, you can feel their breath come and you can sometimes feel yourself inhale it, there is no doubt there is a danger there.’
But Dr Jake Dunning, an infectious disease expert at Public Health Expert, said the suggestion that people wear masks outdoors is shifting the focus away from high risk indoor transmission of the virus.
He said on Twitter: ‘[Forcing joggers to wear masks is] totally disproportionate to any reasonable estimate of risk. Stop whipping up hysteria and anxieties.
‘Stop singling out outdoor runners for no good scientific reason and instead focus on avoiding the actual high risk, indoor scenarios for transmission.’
Viewers disagreed with the argument, with one writing: ‘Protect the NHS. We are, by running, keeping fit, as Covid is clearly worse when you are fat and unfit. Which costs lives and liberty. Our high fat, low exercise population is a key reason why we are dying in greater numbers. Whether people want to talk about it or not.’
Another said: ‘I’m a keen runner/ triathlete. I really look for safe distance to run in, away from walkers etc. If I can’t I put my hand over my face and look away from people.’
A third wrote: ‘When I run I certainly don’t puff and pant over anyone and I steer clear of others, it’s not difficult! I couldn’t run with a mask on.’
Tom, 54, who previously weighed 22 stone, argued that for many people exercise has been their saving grace during the pandemic, and that it’s ‘hard enough’ to run without a mask.
He said: ‘I think for millions of people, lockdown through till winter, the only thing they’ve had is running, I’m part of an online group, we keep ourselves going by supporting each other online. I don’t think I can do a run with a mask on, it’s hard enough with a mask.’
Host Piers went on to share his distain for runners who exercise along his high street, comparing unfit joggers to ‘giant snails’ and ‘panting, wheezing show offs’.
‘I have a real problem along my high street’, he said, ‘I have a problem with them in the normal times, non pandemic times.
‘There’s something so narcissistic about these people running, especially if they’re not very fit and are bouncing along the street barging into everybody. The ones who go around you like a giant snail
‘I have an inherent problem with joggers on high streets I think its the ultimate show off nonsense, but in the pandemic…what about my right not to be infected with Covid-19 by some panting, wheezing show off?’
Tom replied: ‘The strict rule that should be enforced is social distancing, if you are a runner you should know you’re breathing more deeply and you should try and not run into people and run near them.’
Viewers disagreed that runners should be made to wear face coverings, with one arguing that those who keep fit are ‘protecting the NHS’ by trying their best to maintain their health