The big debate over whether face masks can help contain the spread of
Vietnam implemented fines for people who don’t wear them, while the
The newfound embrace of the face mask comes after the World Health Organization
“There is limited evidence that wearing a medical mask by healthy individuals in the households or among contacts of a sick patient, or among attendees of mass gatherings may be beneficial as a preventive measure,” the WHO said.
“However, there is currently no evidence that wearing a mask (whether medical or other types) by healthy persons in the wider community setting, including universal community masking, can prevent them from infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19,” it said.
The current views on face masks mark a shift from the early days of the outbreak, when only a few places that suffered through SARS in 2003 --
About a third of the world is now under lockdown as governments seek to stem the spread of a virus that has now infected some 1.3 million worldwide. Since it spreads via respiratory droplets when a sick person coughs, sneezes or speaks, a face cover can help in both catching the droplets and preventing healthy people from touching their faces.
Part of the shift in mask policies is logistical: Authorities were initially worried that a run on face masks would make it impossible to get them to medical workers, and they didn’t want to mandate them when they couldn’t guarantee supply. U.S. President
Another factor is emerging evidence that a significant number of people infected with the virus are asymptomatic and may be transmitting the disease, a fact that wasn’t obvious when the outbreak first struck. There’s also more evidence that masks on sick people do prevent the virus from spreading.
Still, he said, it was crucial that masks are seen as one of several things that can reduce transmission, including hand washing and social distancing.
“Masks reduce the risk, but if people spend more time in crowds and in the community then that offsets the benefit,” Cowling said. “We need to make sure masks are an additional measure and not a replacement for other social distancing measures.”
The debate over masks was particularly acute in Hong Kong, which borders the mainland.
‘Just a Suggestion’
The Asian financial hub has seen a relatively low number of infections, with most new cases brought by residents returning home from hot spots abroad, including the U.S. and Europe. It’s rare to see people out and about without masks: Lam again donned a blue mask while briefing reporters on Tuesday.
One leader who isn’t as convinced is Trump, who has said he doesn’t plan to wear a mask. He called advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for Americans to wear non-surgical grade cloth masks as a voluntary measure and “just a suggestion.”
Either way, more and more people are poised to embrace masks in the future.
“This is going to be a new normal,” Cowling said. “Popular opinion will gradually shift to greater use of face masks.”
(Updates with WHO comment in fifth paragraph.)
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Daniel Ten Kate, Chris Kay
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.