Europe (Euronews)

Analysis: Should you be wearing a face mask during the pandemic?

By May 15, 2020 No Comments
Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda and his wife Diana Nausediene, left, wearing face masks after leaving church in Vilnius

From Tokyo to Turin, Tallinn to Toronto, through vastly different countries, with different cultures and governments – this crisis has produced a surprisingly, global, uniformed approach.

Not everywhere, but almost everywhere, people have agreed on the methods to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

From confinement to social distancing, closed borders to stopping all-but-essential work, most countries are following the experts – who seem to have an agreed plan.

But not on everything. The wearing of face masks is still dividing opinion.

Clearly, for lots of people in East Asia, covering one’s face has been pretty normal for years. But not so elsewhere.

Well, until now.

No matter where you are on planet Earth, people are increasingly covering their faces, whether that’s with a medical mask, or simply a piece of cut cloth.

It has been made compulsory in New York and similar schemes are being operated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Both Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel have hinted that as part of the easing of their countries’ confinement measures, people will be advised to wear a mask in public.

Today, Germany announced it is to make 10 million masks per week from August.

And the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is asking the UK government to make covering your face while travelling in London compulsory.

But so far the British government doesn’t agree.

And even the advice from the World Health Organization isn’t terribly clear. It says that medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, not the general public, but it has suggested more widespread use of masks will become the norm as the world adjusts to living with the novel coronavirus.

Detailed arguments are being made by both sides in this debate. To some, a face mask is a barrier. The coronavirus can be spread through coughing or sneezing, and so by covering your mouth and nose you are less likely to infect others. But others argue that most people won’t use them properly – the obvious example – which I’ve seen – is people pulling them down to have a smoke or a chat. Even touching them at all can make the mask utterly useless.

Frankly, there is both a lack of evidence and a lack of advice available.

Donald Trump recently said that the US government might start recommending that people wear masks, but he personally would not be wearing one.

The ongoing discussions about face masks are a reminder that, although sometimes decisions are not clear cut, decisions will still have to be made.

It looks increasingly likely that, when manufacturing capacity is fully up to speed, most of us will have to wear them. Governments might simply conclude that it’s better to be cautious, every little could help and, perhaps wearing them will make us all feel a bit safer.

Darren McCaffrey is Euronews’ political editor.

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