20 minutes – What is the use of masks in the fight against Corona?

Anyone who goes shopping in Austria will soon only be able to do this with a hygiene mask. Masks are to be distributed at the entrance to supermarkets from Wednesday – self-made masks are also permitted.


Are you in Switzerland for a mask requirement?

Wearing masks has long been the order of the day in Asia. In the Czech Republic and Slovenia as well, anyone who goes public must wear a mask. In South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, all countries that have so far been relatively successful in combating the corona virus, almost everyone is wearing a mask. Corresponding graphics circulate on Twitter that suggest a connection to the number of infections:

According to virologist Angela Rasmussen from Columbia University, it is difficult to make comparisons, since many other factors often have a greater impact on the number of infections. Rather, the decisive factors are the strict quarantine measures and compliance with social distancing.

Anyway, the effectiveness of masks is controversial among scientists. According to the journal “Science”, no randomized, controlled studies with other viruses have so far proven that masking the public reduces infections.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also sees no benefit in the general protection against mouth wear in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus. There is no indication that anything will be gained, said WHO Emergency Director Michael Ryan in Geneva on Monday.

Rather, there are additional risks if people remove the masks incorrectly and possibly become infected. “Our advice: we do not recommend wearing a face mask if you are not sick yourself,” said Ryan.

“Big mistake that people don’t wear masks”

Nevertheless, numerous researchers advocate the use of masks against the corona virus. For example, the director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control, George Gao. In an interview with Science, he says: “In my opinion, the big mistake in the United States and Europe is that people don’t wear masks.”

It makes sense to wear a mask, because whenever you speak, droplets come out of your mouth. These played a very important role in the distribution. Especially since there are also people with corona who show symptoms late or not at all. “Wearing masks can prevent droplets containing the virus from escaping and infecting others.”

The German virologist Alexander Kekulé is also a strong supporter of the use of masks. He told WDR that wearing respiratory masks could make an important contribution to curbing the coronavirus pandemic. “I would strongly recommend that you actually wear such simple surgical masks now that there are a lot of infected people outside,” said Kekulé. He even recommends making a mask yourself if necessary.

According to Kekulé, the masks also offer some protection to the wearer, especially in closed rooms. Because the viruses would first have to land on the mucous membranes, i.e. in the mouth, nose or eyes.

Mask must be worn correctly

It has already been demonstrated that masks can prevent various respiratory infections in nursing staff. For Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong, it makes no sense “to imagine that surgical masks are really important for health workers, but then they are of no use to the general public.”

But it is important that the average person is taught how to wear a mask correctly. Only then, according to Cowling, did he have “some protection against infections in the community”.

Do authorities advise against scarcity?

The fact that many health authorities advise against wearing masks is due to the limited supply, says Elaine Shuo Feng, epidemiologist at Oxford University. With her team, she compared recommendations from various health authorities regarding face masks.

A mask requirement is not entirely off the table in Switzerland. Last week Daniel Koch from the Federal Office of Public Health made it clear: “Wearing masks in public does not offer any significant protection.” There is no evidence for the benefits. On Monday, he struck new tones: “At the moment, this measure is not planned in Switzerland.” But that could change, which also depends on whether there are enough masks.



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