Masks are all over Asia, but did they help during COVID-19?

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TOKYO –
The use of masks in Asia during the coronavirus epidemic was much more widespread than in the West, where governments urged people to reserve supplies for front-line medical personnel, so did they help limit infections?

Experts agree that ordinary surgical masks commonly worn in parts of Asia during cold and hay fever seasons are not a foolproof way to prevent coronavirus infection.

But people infected with the virus are advised to wear them to stop the spread to others, and there is evidence that transmission can occur before a person knows they are sick. This reinforced the argument of proponents of the mask who believe they can help limit the epidemic.

In some parts of Asia, wearing a mask has been a key response to the epidemic, with the Japanese government announcing on Wednesday that each household would get two versions of reusable fabric, and Hong Kongers would not only wear them but send them to relatives. abroad.

Keiji Fukuda, director and clinical professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, said city residents see wearing a mask “as a means for the individual to protect both society as a whole and yourself ”.

“But where I grew up in the United States, wearing masks is seen by some, if not many, as a personal offense – an unwanted imposed obligation,” he told AFP.

The use of masks in parts of Asia with a relatively low number of virus infections and deaths, especially in Japan and Hong Kong, has led some to believe that wearing a mask makes the difference.

But the experts are skeptical.

Instead, Ben Cowling, a professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong, attributes a series of public health measures implemented in these countries.

These include “identifying cases and isolate them, find and quarantine their contacts, but also to establish social distancing in the community,” he told AFP. .

FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY

And Fukuda also warned against wearing a “magic X-factor” mask.

“Some places like Singapore have generally been very successful without putting a lot of emphasis on masks,” he noted.

He attributes the small outbreaks to measures such as contact tracing, good coordination, social distancing “and an audience very concerned from the start and willing to work with the health authorities”.

“The whole package is important. “

The position of the World Health Organization remains that wearing masks for the general public is not advised, highlighting a global shortage of masks and the desperate need to get supplies available to frontline health workers.

And some experts warn that wearing a mask can backfire even when supplies are plentiful.

“Masks can give people a false sense of security,” said Simon Clarke, associate professor of cell microbiology at the University of Reading.

BETTER THAN NOTHING?

Defending the use of the mask, he feared, could also embolden those who are reluctant to adhere to measures of social distancing.

“I can imagine a situation where people who are infected and therefore shedding viruses think their mask gives them permission to go out into public places or to work,” he told AFP.

“We all know people who don’t think about putting colds to work to share with everyone – so will the coronavirus. “

Despite the lack of solid evidence, there are signs that Western officials are moving towards encouraging the use of masks.

Austria and Slovenia, among others, have already made their use mandatory, and famed American scientist Anthony Fauci said this week that when supplies are stable, mask-wearing recommendations could be expanded to help prevent infected people spread the virus.

“One of the best ways to do this is to use a mask,” he told CNN.

Cowling said that more research is needed to guide policy on what types of masks are useful and how to use them, but that increased use of masks may be helpful.

“I think countries are considering all possible measures to slow transmission, so even if a measure like face masks could only reduce transmission by a small amount, it could still be worth it. “

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