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4 March 2020

Regulator bans adverts for “coronavirus masks“

Unscrupulous businesses are turning a pandemic into profit.

By media mole

As cases of the novel coronavirus Covid-19 continue to increase around the world and “community transmission” – new cases among people who have not left the country – takes hold in the UK, many people are taking steps to protect themselves. Meanwhile, many other people are looking for opportunities to make a quick buck from our shared sense of impending disaster.

On Amazon, the good people at Easy Shopping 4 Home Ltd  – a brand you instinctively know you can trust – have been banned from hawking a “Coronavirus Anti Corona Virus Vented Face Mask” by the Advertising Standards Agency. The ASA explained that “Public Health England did not recommend the use of face masks as a means of protection” and that, worse still, “prolonged use of masks was likely to reduce compliance with good universal hygiene behaviours that were recommended to help stop the spread of infectious diseases”.

Meanwhile the advertising networks Outbrain and Taboola have been showing an ad, also now banned, linking to fake news stories about face masks. The ads for a mask called the Oxybreath Pro (again, seems legit) warned consumers that “airborne viruses have been spreading around the world in the speed of light”, but that the Oxybreath is an “effective solution” to the dangers posed by the respiratory infection.

“Peace of mind is priceless during this terrifying time,” the ads concluded, although the brief respite from epidemiological panic that comes from buying an Oxybreath Pro costs £38.

Anxious consumers looking to splurge on pandemic tat still have plenty to choose from on Amazon, where a quick search for “coronavirus” will net you a useless mask for your dog, some useless tea that claims to “minimize risk to be infected of epidemic virus” and books that will advise you to treat severe respiratory infections with ginger juice

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The same search on eBay will also bring up plenty of people who will sell you a “coronavirus mask” despite the fact that the government has advised you not to wear one unless you’re treating an infected person.

Still, the people of this country have had enough of experts, with their qualifications and their advice. What we need now are easily understandable solutions. Solutions that, granted, may not work – that may in fact do the opposite of working – but which can be delivered to your door in a pointlessly large box by an exhausted gig-economy driver. Who says you can’t spend your way out of a crisis?