The Speaker
Saturday, 20 July 2024 – 08:23

Should we be using face masks?

Face masks are proven to be useful in a clinical setting, however, there are questions over whether they should also be used by members of the public amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

There are different rules on the use of face masks in different countries around the world and many are now wearing masks voluntarily – but can they help protect us from the COVID-19 Coronavirus?


When are face masks usually used?

Face masks are often used by health professionals during surgery and nursing. Such masks are designed to catch the bacteria from the wearer’s mouth and nose that is shed in liquid droplets and small particles. 

Face masks are popularly worn by the general public, often all year round, in East Asian countries such as China and Japan. It is particularly common to see the masks worn in such countries during the flu season, and at other times to prevent the breathing in of dust particles created by air pollution. Types of face mask are also used regularly in Southeast Asia and India due to smog, a particular type of air pollution.

In some parts of Asia, wearing a face mask has even become a fashion statement for many young people.


Where are face masks being used currently?

Some countries, especially in Asia, have encouraged the use of face masks during the Coronavirus pandemic, with the masks thought to provide some protection against the spread of diseases.

Some countries have introduced mandatory masks to be worn in public spaces and on public transport – for example, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Many individuals in the UK and across the world are now choosing to wear face masks voluntarily.


How much protection do face masks provide?

This question has led to some debate. Surgical face masks vary in quality but generally are not designed to protect users from inhaling airborne bacteria or virus particles. The varying quality of face masks means that they might not catch all virus particles and bacteria released from the mouth and nose. Respirator facemasks are generally considered to offer more protection, however, can still not be expected to provide optimal protection. A shortage of masks has led to some people creating their own, which are again expected to generally provide less protection.

It has been suggested that without training, the wearing of masks by workers may also be ineffective.

A Surgical Mask A Respirator-Style Mask


Can face masks replace the need for social distancing?

No – wearing a face mask is not an excuse to ignore social distancing guidelines. Face masks are supposed to help stop other people catching germs that leave your mouth and nose. However, the varying quality of such masks means the virus may still get through the mask.

It’s also key to note that many people who contract the COVID-19 Coronavirus will only show mild symptoms, and some people may not show any at all. If we don’t feel ill, we might feel like we don’t need to wear a mask or social distance – which could potentially be dangerous and lead to the greater spreading of the virus.


What is the official advice on whether to wear them?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) (at the time of publication), you only need to wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing, or if you are taking care of a person with COVID-19. Masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning, according to WHO.

The UK government has said it will not tell the public to wear face masks unless its scientists say it is necessary.

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