More proof that face masks help to curb the spread of the new coronavirus

  • Studies have shown that face masks are effective in reducing the spread of SARS-CoV-2
  • A new study suggests that this practice may have helped slow down infection rates in 42 countries
  • However, it must be noted that wearing face masks as a protection measure is insufficient on its own

A large majority of governments across the world have implemented the mandatory wearing of face masks when going out during the Covid-19 pandemic, as this works to limit the spread of the new coronavirus.

A new study revealed that in countries that adopted this practice early in the pandemic saw modest Covid-19 infection rates. The findings of researchers from the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Face mask wear in 42 countries, 6 continents

According to the authors, the number of infections, as well as the severity of Covid-19 cases, may have been affected by the wearing of face masks as a protective measure in 42 countries across six continents.

“In many Asian countries like China and Japan, the use of face masks during this pandemic is ubiquitous and considered hygiene etiquette, whereas, in many Western countries, its use in public is less common,” the researchers wrote.

They added that early adoption of face masks in public may be an independent, significant factor in controlling the disease on a population level. Hong Kong received particular praise:

“One illustrative region is Hong Kong, where the public interest in face masks is among the highest... A recent survey showed that face masks were used in 98.8% of the respondents to prevent Covid-19, a proportion higher than other measures of hand-washing or crowd avoidance.

“Being one of the first cities affected by the Severe Acute Respiratory Virus (SARS), residents in Hong Kong saw Covid-19 had an uncanny resemblance to SARS, and quickly equipped themselves with protective wears early in the epidemic,” they mentioned.

Hong Kong has a modest infection rate, with just over 1 000 cases to date. 

Why the case for wearing face masks changed

Health24 previously reported that face masks were initially mostly recommended for those symptomatic individuals who were already coughing and sneezing, but that as more research was done on the virus, it became evident that mask-wearing does, in fact, help to reduce infection in populations.

Another Health24 article also reported on a study from earlier this year that wearing face masks could potentially help in preventing a second Covid-19 wave.

Newer research also found that the virus may be airborne, which led to the World Health Organization (WHO) adapting their guidelines, listing several advantages of using fabric masks in public. On that note, masks are not enough to offer optimal protection.

Strict hygiene practices and physical distancing also important

Although more and more research has determined the significance of wearing face masks, this preventative measure cannot by itself slow the rise in infections. This means that other protective measures, such as hand-washing with soap and water, as well as physical distancing, among other things, are as crucial as wearing face masks.

“We believe broader mask use is key to controlling the pandemic of Covid-19, apart from hand hygiene, physical distancing and other public policy measures. Although universal masking may seem tedious and is criticised by the lack of high-quality supporting evidence, we think it is reasonable to reconsider such a measure in all but sparse areas in the public.

“As the saying goes, ‘Better safe than sorry’, and is it not better to adopt a possibly imperfect protective measure, rather than waiting for more evidence at the expense of human lives?” the researchers concluded.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
28% - 9789 votes
72% - 24616 votes