Do not wear a mask if you are well read a warning plastered across the front of Singapore main newspaper on Friday, as authorities around the world sought to calm panic buying of masks seen as a guard against the fast-spreading corona virus. In neighboring Malaysia, the government urged people to always have masks and hand sanitizers ready, similar to advice by authorities in Thailand and Vietnam. Conflicting messages have sowed confusion over how to protect against an epidemic that has claimed over 200 lives in China and spread to over 20 countries, with some experts saying wrong handling of masks could even increase infection risk.
Official guidance from the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention makes no mention of wearing a face mask as a preventative measure against the virus – but their websites do not specifically advise against them. Australia and Taiwan have said healthy people don’t need masks, but Australia has released 1 million masks from the national medical stockpile, and masks are widely worn in Taiwan capital Taipei where the government has imposed purchase limits and an export ban on masks.
Masks Must Be Fitted Correctly
Corona virus can be transmitted from person to person, although it is not clear how easily. Most cases have been in people who have been in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the center of the outbreak, family members of those infected, or medical workers. Transmission is likely through contact with an infected person via particles in the air from coughing or sneezing, or by someone touching an infected person or object with the virus on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.
The truth is that while masks are by no means a perfect tool for preventing the spread of an illness, in a world without a vaccine or any clinically proven treatment for COVID-19, they may be one more ounce of prevention that can help slow the spread across a community, especially when people who don’t yet know they’re infected wear them to protect others.
To be sure, as the agency noted, there are psychological and social benefits to mask wearing. For instance, in some countries, mask wearing helped to prevent stigmatizing the infected. Still, mask wearing by the general public is not among the WHO recommendations. We don’t generally recommend the wearing of masks in public by otherwise well individuals because it has not up to now been associated with any particular benefit, said Ryan.