A retired doctor says there is no physical medical condition he knows of to prevent people wearing face masks during the pandemic.

Former Wroughton and Chiseldon GP Dr Chris Barry, 74, from Swindon was alarmed when he was in Old Town Hardware on Wood Street two weeks ago and another man came in not wearing a mask.

He said the man told staff he had an exemption certificate left in the car and carried on with his shopping.

“I was just astonished because as a doctor I’ve been trying to think of conditions that might merit exemption from wearing a mask. Basically, as far as physical conditions are concerned, if your breathing is bad enough to be impaired by a mask, it’s bad enough to be impaired even more by Covid.”

Dr Barry who retired four years ago, said: “People with asthma can wear a mask. People with COPD, which is the other main source of breathlessness can wear a mask. People with heart conditions like angina can wear one. Some people are on portable oxygen, but then they’re wearing the oxygen mask anyway.

“I not been able to find any medical condition which justifies an exemption,” he said.

The government allows people not to wear a mask if they cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability. They provide exemption card templates that do not need to specify why or be signed by a medical professional.

“I don’t know if the Government has done this on any medical advice,” said Dr Barry, who trained at Caius College Cambridge and qualified 50 years ago.

“In the medical journals I read I’ve not seen any mention anywhere of medical grounds for an exemption.

“But I’m always willing to learn. If someone said they couldn’t wear one due to a respiratory or hidden problem I’d love to know what that is,” he said.

Face masks reduce the exhalation of droplets which carry the virus from the nose and mouth. They have no effect on the level of oxygen in the blood.

Dr Barry added: “If I was that fearful about wearing a mask, I would be even more fearful about going into a shop or a crowd; I would certainly be more fearful of catching Covid.

“I know people have pleaded panic attacks or whatever but again if I was that nervous I’d wear a mask to protect myself against Covid.”

The retired GP felt it was his duty to speak out about the issue.

“I think we all have a public duty about this pandemic. I’m worried about the gentleman putting other people at risk. I know that when I wear a mask it’s to protect other people from me that’s the main function of masks.

“Interestingly in terms of their protection from infection it is still pretty minimal in either direction inhaling or exhaling. But I think one of the few pieces of evidence is that people tend to give you a wider berth if you are wearing a mask. It makes people think, and I think that’s important.

“I’ve seen it said, ‘what would you rather wear, a mask or a ventilator?’” he added.

Jessica Kirby head of health advice at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said: “Most people with lung conditions will be able to wear a face covering with no problem and so we’d encourage everyone to do so if they’re able to. You can try wearing a face covering at home for short intervals to try and get used to it and you can also experiment with different types of coverings to find what works for you.

“We know that for some people wearing a face covering leaves them feeling like it’s impossible to breathe, and the Government has said that they are exempt from wearing one. It’s important there is greater understanding for those who are exempt – we’ve heard from people with lung conditions being publicly confronted by strangers for not wearing a face covering, leaving them feeling anxious and humiliated. Not all health conditions are visible and we’d urge the public to think twice before they judge someone for not wearing one.

“For anyone living with a lung condition its vital to take steps to protect yourself and others, by continuing to social distance, wash your hands and wear a face covering if you can.”