HAIRDRESSERS may be unknowingly passing on coronavirus to clients because they are wearing “inadequate” visors, ministers have warned.
Scientists fear the plastic face shields worn by staff in barbers and hair salons might not be providing suitable protection as they leave a significant gap which could allow airborne Covid-19 droplets to pass through.
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NHS staff only wear visors in addition to masks, as only the masks are designed to cover both the nose and mouth.
Scientists are said to have raised concerns about the equipment worn by hairdressers in the latest meeting of The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) on Friday.
The issues was also discussed in a recent meeting of at least one sub-committee of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the Daily Telegraph has reported.
Ministers are now facing calls from Sage and Nervtag scientists to require barbers and hairdressers to wear masks or face coverings – either alone or with visors.
Prof Mark Wilcox, a professor of medical microbiology who attends Sage and two of its sub committees, said: “I don’t think the guidance is correct and I don’t understand why visors were chosen in preference to masks.
“We have, in several settings, discussed the issue of masks versus visors and I think it would be fair to say that I am not alone in these views. My colleagues both in those settings and in other settings share my views.
“I’ve not come across somebody who has said that visors are the best thing.”
Dr Ben Killingley, a consultant in infectious diseases who sits on Nervtag, said: “I don’t know where it came from, where someone decided that just wearing a visor for hairdressers alone would be enough. That doesn’t make sense to me.
“A visor is primarily worn to protect workers from splashes. It does the same job as goggles, protecting the eyes. No healthcare worker would ever wear a visor without a mask.
“You would have thought for their own protection and just in case they have been infected themselves, they should be wearing a mask themselves. In my view, both to protect the hairdresser and the person coming in, just wearing a visor alone is not enough.”
Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of Nervtag, tweeted his concerns, after a haircut by a barber wearing a face shield.
“His expelled breath and droplets were directed down onto me,” Prof Openshaw tweeted. “Zero protection, I’d say.”
He added that while his own mask provided protection against possible viral droplets, it would have failed to prevent “corneal seeding”, where Covid-19 particles enter the eyes.
The concerns come after Prime Minister Boris Johnson hit the brakes on easing the coronavirus lockdown – saying he wouldn’t “stand by and allow the virus to cause more pain and heartache in this country”.
He announced that most of the measures which were to be lifted today would now be put on ice for two weeks.
He also hinted at backtracking the easing of lockdown even further after new rules banning households from meeting each other in homes were announced for Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire overnight.
Dr Killingley cited a study in the US which found that no Covid-19 cases were reported among 139 clients who were exposed to two asymptomatic hair stylists in Missouri.
Both of the stylists were wearing surgical masks or cotton face coverings at each appointment, as were their clients.
The government’s current advice for those working in “close contact services” such as hairdressers and beauty salons, states: “Clearly, when providing close contact services, it often may not be possible to maintain social distancing guidelines (2m, or 1m apart with risk mitigation, is acceptable).
As a result, personal protective equipment in the form of a visor will be required to mitigate the risk.”
The NHBF, the trade body for hairdressers, beauty salons and barbers, states on its website: “Clients may wear face coverings if they wish and staff can wear a face covering in addition to a visor, but not instead of one.”
It added it relied on the Government for advice about personal protective equipment.
A Government spokesman said: “Advice for hairdressers remains unchanged and is that they should continue to wear visors.