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  • Have Face Masks Slowed the Spread of COVID-19?

Have Face Masks Slowed the Spread of COVID-19?

Jul 14 2020 Read 440 Times

There’s plenty of controversy surrounding whether face masks are an effective way to slow the spread of COVD-19. Now, new research from the Chinese University of Hong Kong is stressing countries that adopted face masks in the early stages of the pandemic have enjoyed relatively low COVID-19 infection rates compared to countries that did not.

The findings were reported in a letter-to-the-editor published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, with the authors asserting that face mask adoption rates may have played an important role in containing and fuelling outbreaks around the world.

Low transmission rates in Asia credited to face masks

Titled ‘COVID-19 and Public Interest in Face Mask Use’, the letter compares Asian countries where face masks are commonplace to western nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom, where face masks are unusual and not widely adopted.

"In many Asian countries like China and Japan, the use of face masks in this pandemic is ubiquitous and is considered as a hygiene etiquette, whereas in many western countries, its use in the public is less common," reads the letter.

Clear link between masks and infection rates

Sunny Wong, MD, an associate professor at the university’s Department of Medicine and Therapeutics, says the correlation between face masks and infection rates is clear. “One classic example is seen in Hong Kong," says Wong. “Despite proximity to mainland China, its infection rate of COVID-19 is generally modest with only 1,110 cases to-date.” Wong says the low rates are thanks to an almost universal adoption of face masks in the city, with almost 99% of survey respondents saying they wear a mask in public. Similar links have been reported in other Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan.

“Face masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19” stress experts

For Wong, the pattern is clear and should be acknowledged by health organisations and governments around the world. “Face masks can help slow the spread of COVID-19, and have a relatively low cost compared to the health resources and death toll associated with the pandemic," says Wong, who is calling on all countries to advice citizens to wear masks in public. “We believe that face mask use, hand washing and social distancing are all important components of the non-pharmaceutical measures against COVID-19.”

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