NEW DELHI: Should everyone wear a mask to stave off the threat of COVID-19? Even the Centre does not seem to have a clear-cut answer to that question.
While the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, through statements and guidelines, has been maintaining that face masks do not help those who are not sick, the advisory from the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Centre on Tuesday urged every citizen to use masks—even if made at home.
Incidentally, the PSA K Vijay Raghavan, along with Dr V K Paul, member (health), Niti Aayog -- who also heads a 21-member national task force on the COVID-19 outbreak -- have been made part of an empowered group on science and technology to tackle the crisis.
The manual, designed jointly with the Union health ministry and issued by the PSA’s office, cited an influenza modeling study from the US that noted elimination of infection with 80 per cent use of masks.
The document goes on to describe in detail how cloth masks can be prepared at home.
“Masks protect people from droplets, from those in proximity and reduce droplets leaving people and potentially infecting others,” Vijay Raghavan told this newspaper when approached for a comment.
“They are of particular value where proximity cannot be avoided, such as in crowded homes. Every form of care has its value and no one form is sufficient by itself.”
In contrast, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry in the daily briefing on Tuesday, said that the government stands by its earlier stance that only those who have infection, their close contacts with symptoms or those who are suspected COVID-19 patients and have to visit doctors or hospitals need to wear masks.
“Social distancing is the most effective tool to prevent infection,” said Agarwal adding that some recommendations on homemade masks given by a technical committee on COVID 19 are being examined.
Public health specialists on the other hand said that the the manual from the office of the PSA to the government is aimed at ensuring appropriate use as well as stimulate adequate supply and availability of reusable masks.
“A recent article in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine has suggested that governments should make rational recommendations on appropriate face mask use to complement recommended preventive interventions,” said Dr Oommen John, senior researcher with the George Institute of Global Health in New Delhi.
“There needs to be a clear understanding that masks used as part of PPE by those in healthcare settings treating patients with COVID-19 and immediate direct carers of confirmed CoVID patients are different from the masks suggested in the manual from PSA,” he added.