Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Muriel Newman: Facemasks for the public – safety or rationing?

COVID-19 is not only spread through coughing and sneezing but by regular breathing as well. That’s why those countries that have the disease under control – namely Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China – require people to wear face masks in public.

Since health workers wear facemasks to keep themselves safe, it makes sense for the public to do so too. This is particularly important given that well over a half of all people infected with COVID-19 do not show symptoms, so no-one knows who they are.

As Professor David Hui, a respiratory expert at the University of Hong Kong explains it’s “common sense” that wearing a mask will protect against COVID-19. “The mask provides a barrier from respiratory droplets, which is predominantly how the virus spreads. Patients with COVID-19 often have mild or even no symptoms, and some researchers believe it can also be transmitted when patients are asymptomatic—meaning patients can be contagious and don’t know they’re sick.”

Facemasks not only prevent the spread of airborne viruses and discourage hand to face contamination, but people wearing masks are also more likely to keep their distance from others, reinforcing social distancing requirements.

However, in spite of the overwhelming evidence that facemasks would be beneficial to the public, our Prime Minister and her top health officials continue to tell us that they are not needed.
The reality is that their response is not based on the safety of the public, but on the desire to ration supplies to ensure health workers do not run out.

That is simply not good enough. We should be pressing our Government to obtain sufficient supplies of facemasks to not only ensure there are plenty for health workers, but for households as well. This is what governments are doing in countries that have successfully contained the virus.

Here in New Zealand there are businesses that would welcome the opportunity to manufacture facemasks for all New Zealanders. The Prime Minister should authorise that now!

PS. In the meantime, the US Centre for Disease Control recommends using scarves and cloth masks, if proper ones are not available, and has provided details for making your own, including DIY options that don’t need sewing – see HERE.

Dr Muriel Newman is a former MP who runs the New Zealand Centre for Political Research pubic policy think tank.

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