- The Ministry of Health released updated recommendations in line with the WHO.
- Health Minister Chris Hipkins encouraged Kiwis to wear a mask in public places.
- For COVID-19, the person may spread the virus before they develop any symptoms.
- WHO said that along with face mask, other personal and community level safety measures should also be in place to stop the spread.
New Zealand Government has suddenly changed its stance on wearing a mask for protection from the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent for COVID-19.
On 11 August 2020, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that there were four positive cases detected in an Auckland family with the source still unknown, a first of its kind in New Zealand in 102 days.
The Ministry of Health has recommended all households to prepare themselves for a possible further outbreak of COVID-19. The Ministry has suggested for each household member to wear non-medical grade face masks. These masks could be either reusable and washable, or single-use, disposable face masks.
This announcement coming from the Health Ministry has left New Zealanders surprised as earlier the Ministry had a very different outlook towards the pandemic spread. Insisting on wearing a mask is a noteworthy change from the Government’s earlier stand, which was only three months ago. Dr Ashley Bloomfield, The Director-General of Health, said there wasn't enough evidence to support or discourage mask use.
Health Minister Chris Hipkins encouraged Kiwis to wear masks in public places. The minister warned about the possible outbreak and whether New Zealand goes back to Level 2. The minister also asked the citizens to prepare themselves for the same.
Hipkins said that the situation is different than where NZ was previously, and with it, the evidence has changed as well.
In May, a high-level scientific review commissioned by the Ministry of Health's chief science advisor Dr Ian Town explored the mass usage of masks. The study highlighted that there's not enough evidence to recommend people to wear a mask to protect themselves from COVID-19. The top epidemiologists had a different opinion as they urged New Zealanders to adopt masks when the alert level drops down to Level 2. Dr Town, in his review, explored various approaches other countries have taken to battle the virus and lower the spread. The research provided evidence that wearing a mask has potential benefits, but it also causes potential harm. The science behind it isn't conclusive yet.
A Shield Against COVID-19:
The Ministry of Health, in its recommendation, said, wearing a face mask can lower the risk of infected ones spreading the virus to others. This is termed as 'source control'. For more information on this, the Ministry also asked the public to refer to the World Health Organization's new guidelines. A face mask can stop droplets spreading when an infected person speaks, laugh, cough or sneeze. Many a time a COVID-19 infected person feels perfectly well and shows no apparent symptoms; they are called asymptomatic.
For COVID-19 virus spread, there is emerging evidence of a person being asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic but still infected. Transmission of virus in such cases is known as pre-symptomatic transmission. The person may spread the virus before they develop any symptoms. They can also spread the virus until up to one day after their symptoms stop.
In these scenarios, the face mask is particularly useful if there is a known community transmission in the area. A face mask can help avert the spread in people who are close to each other like on public transport, in shops or restaurants or other confined or crowded environments.
Source: WHO Interim Guidelines
WHO’s New Guidelines:
World Health Organization (WHO) advised on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19. It issued guidelines which include updated scientific evidence relevant to the use of masks for preventing transmission of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as well as practical considerations. WHO said in its report that the use of a mask is part of a comprehensive strategy to prevent and control the growth of respiratory viral diseases, including COVID-19. Masks can be either used for protection of a healthy person who can wear it to protect when in contact with infected people knowingly or unknowingly. They can also be used for source control by an infected individual wearing it to prevent onward transmission; the individual may not even know about their infection.
However, WHO said the use of masks alone isn't sufficient to provide an adequate level of protection to the individual or source control. Other personal and community level safety measures should also be adopted to suppress transmission of respiratory viruses. Whether or not a mask is used, WHO suggested complying with hand hygiene, physical distancing and other infection prevention and control measures. These are critical to prevent human-to-human transmission of COVID-19. WHO specifically suggested using of mask in health care settings, for the public and during home care.
Even though the Ministry of Health is now in compliance with WHO on the use of masks, the New Zealanders are still unclear. As per the Ministry's earlier guidelines, a mask is not required in Level 1 situation. But the Ministry is now recommending wearing a mask in preparation for a future outbreak. Every household has a mask available in the emergency kit.
Hipkins said, if the country moves to level 2, wearing a mask would be critical in public places such as public transport or stores, where social distancing is not possible. The minister encourages citizens to wear a reusable or single-use mask if not medical grade mask, as they are readily available online or in stores.
WHO said that the knowledge about transmission of the COVID-19 virus is accumulating every day. COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory disease because of which the spectrum of infection with this virus can differ.
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