NEW special facemasks coated with antiviral agents that can kill Covid are being developed by British scientists.
The invisible coating will attack the virus by rupturing its outer layer – and are also hoped to knock out the Kent and South African variants of Covid.
University of Cambridge scientists are developing the masks with use a technology called DiOX, which uses organic disinfectant compounds in the textiles, reports The Telegraph.
Lab tests showed the antiviral masks killed 95 per cent of pathogens within one hour and the bugs were undetectable after four hours.
The agents continue to work against the rapidly mutating virus variants as they are unaffected by changes to the spike protein.
The mask is reusable and can be washed up to 20 times – but loses some of its efficacy after multiple washes.
It is all part of effort to form an effective line of defence as the virus continues to mutate – with new strains emerging worldwide as mankind fights back against the pandemic.
Scientists elsewhere are attempting to develop a “universal” vaccine that will not have its efficiency impacted by the changes in the virus.
Dr Graham Christie, senior lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at the University of Cambridge, said: “The antiviral agent within the coating of the mask kills the virus by breaching its protective outer membrane, which is known as its envelope.
“Unlike other parts of the virus, the membrane remains the same regardless of any type of mutation.
“Hence this way of attacking the pathogen will work on any new variant of coronavirus.”
Dr Christie added: “In fact, you could mutate the entire genome of the virus and it would have no effect on the envelope.
“We expect to see the same response regardless of the strain of coronavirus because structurally they are all very similar.”
He went on: “The variants that we are seeing occur in the spike proteins that stud the surface of the virus rather than the membrane of the envelope.
“It is the genetic information that encodes this protein that is mutating, and this is leading to very slight structural changes in the shape of the spike.
“However, the envelope is derived from part of a human cell that the virus grabs from its host in order to protect its genetic material. It is made from lipids, which unlike the proteins do not change.”
The mask was tested against a coronavirus called MHV-A56, which is similar in structure and genetics to Covid-19.
Andy Middleton, co-founder of LiquidNano, the UK company which commissioned the study, said: “The Cambridge work followed industry standards for the testing of viruses on material.
“It also made some critical adaptations to give it a more ‘real-world’ relevance.
“This included conducting splash tests to mimic sneezing, helping to ensure the tests were as rigorous as possible.
“We have taken a proven antiviral agent and developed it for fabric in order to create a user-friendly mask
It comes as Covid deaths dropped by a quarter this week as 621 people died today and 13,308 tested positive.
The total number of fatalities now stands at 116,908.
Mr Johnson said today he was “cautiously optimistic” as he prepares to reveal his roadmap out of the shutdown.
Deaths have continued to drop in a tentative sign the lockdown is working and Britain is getting over the darkest days of the pandemic – with hopes pubs may be back open in April.