A study in the UK found that the use of facemasks by the public nationwide could majorly contribute to reducing the further spread of COVID-19. In combination with physical distancing or periods of lockdown, facemasks usage might be an ‘acceptable’ method of managing the pandemic as economies reopen, according to researchers.
The study, led by scientists at the Greenwich and Cambridge universities in Britain, was published in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society A” journal on Wednesday (10 June).
The study noted that when facemasks are used by members of the public at all times, and not just when they are symptomatic, it could effectively reduce the reproduction number to below 1. The reproduction number is the average number of people that a single infected person will pass the virus to. If that number is above 1, that could lead to exponential growth.
However, the study showed that when lockdowns are implemented together with a 100% facemask use, the virus spreads much less which effectively flattens secondary and tertiary waves, thus bringing the pandemic under control.
The study also showed that even if people are placed in situations of increased risks. In fact, the study noted that even if less than 100% of people wear masks and there is no lockdown, there is still a benefit to the entire population with significantly lower rates of COVID-19 spread and associated deaths.
Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at Cambridge said, “Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of facemasks by the public.”
Essentially, wearing masks can significantly mitigate the occurrence of a second or third wave of COVID-19 infections nationwide even as lockdown eases.
Taiwan: Risk of transmission will reduce drastically to about one to two per cent
Speaking at a daily news conference at the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) in Taiwan earlier on 2 May, specialist advisory panel convener, Chang Shan-chwen, said that wearing face mask could greatly reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Mr Chang addressed the issue where the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Taiwan did not spread to other people. He noted that the risk of infection is high if both infected and uninfected people are not wearing face masks. However, if the healthy person wears a mask, the risk of contracting COVID-19 will be greatly reduced by about 50 to 80 per cent. He also explained that the reduced risk only focuses on transmission via respiratory droplets.
On the other hand, Mr Chang asserted that if only the infected person is wearing a mask, the risk of transmitting the coronavirus will reduce by about 80 to 90 per cent, not forgetting the risk of leakage from the sides of the mask.
He added that when both infected and health people wear masks, the risk of transmission will reduce drastically to about one to two per cent.
For 61 days, Taiwan has not reported any domestically transmitted COVID-19 cases and has changed its daily reporting of the COVID pandemic to that of a weekly one.
Facemasks usage in Singapore
On Friday (12 June), the World Health Organisation updated its recommendations to encourage the use of fabric facemasks in public areas where there is a risk in order to reduce further spread of the virus.
In Singapore, wearing masks in public was made mandatory in mid-April as announced by the multi ministry taskforce. Although, exceptions are made for children below the age of two as per the recommendation of medical experts, says taskforce co-chair and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on 14 June.
People are also allowed to remove the facemask when engaging in strenuous exercise but are required to immediately place it back on when finished.
Anyone who fails to comply with the mask-wearing rules will be fined $300, while for those who commit offence repeatedly will be fined $1,000 or prosecuted in court for egregious cases, said Mr Wong.
In his national address on 3 April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong even said that the government will “no longer discourage people from wearing masks”.
This was a major turn in the government’s mask policy at the start of the pandemic when it emphasised that masks were only necessary for those who were unwell.
This was despite the fact that experts around the world had already been extolling the importance of mask usage for everyone, whether or not they are unwell.
PM Lee had explained that this previous policy was based on “scientific evidence and guidelines” from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and that there were initially no instances of community spread of the virus in Singapore.
He added that new evidence showed that an asymptomatic infected person could still pass on the virus. As such, the policy was changed. adding “this is why the WHO is reviewing the issue of face masks, and so is the US CDC.”