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“Wearing a mask is the single most effective public health measure at tackling Covid”

Masks are now a part of our everyday lives, but with vaccination rates increasing, new questions have arisen. Do you still need a mask if you’ve been vaccinated? Does it all depend on herd immunity?

According to a new global study, published in the British Medical Journal, wearing a mask is the single most effective public health measure at tackling Covid, reducing incidence by 53%.

A first of its kind research conducted by public health experts from Australia, the UK and China has found that mask-wearing can significantly reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission.

While vaccines are safe and effective and saving lives around the world, experts say most do not confer 100% protection, most countries have not vaccinated everyone, and it is not yet known if jabs will prevent future transmission of emerging coronavirus variants.

However, now, a systematic review and meta-analysis of non-pharmaceutical interventions, found for the first time that mask wearing, social distancing and hand washing are all effective measures at curbing cases – with mask wearing being the most effective.

Results from more than 30 studies from around the world were analysed in detail, showing a significant 53% reduction in the incidence of Covid with mask wearing and a 25% reduction with physical distancing.

The effectiveness of masking in reducing the spread of COVID-19 is also described in a range of other evidence-based articles. Here we describe several well documented examples of research:

1. Observational studies conducted in Missouri, USA, by MJ Hendrix, C. Walde, K. Findley, R. Trotman show that even though two hairstylists who were symptomatic for COVID-19, but remained undiagnosed, interacted with 139 clients, there was no viral transmission due to the use of masks by the both stylists and all clientele.

2. The impact of mask mandates in multiple U.S. states was seen quite significantly in the period between April to May 2020, wherein in it was found that masking averted as many as 200,000 cases of COVID-19 during that time period. Researchers also surveyed 378,207 people across the USA and found that people and communities with higher mask use had lower COVID-19 transmission.

3. An intervention study from Bangladesh compared 2 groups of villagers – one group was provided masks and education regarding proper use, and another group received none of the above. Researchers found that mask use resulted in a relative risk reduction of contracting COVID-19 by up to 34.7%.

4. In January 2021, a systematic review of 35 studies published in the paper ‘Face mask use in the community for reducing the spread of COVID-19: a systematic review’, supported the use of face masks in the community for COVID-19 prevention.

5. In April, a further review by Liao, M., et al., in their paper, ‘A technical review of face mask wearing in preventing respiratory COVID-19 transmission’ highlighted the effectiveness of mask wearing in preventing COVID-19 infection.

Taking these and the many other sources of evidence into account, a number of organisations such as World Health Organisation, US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued their guidelines recommending masking as an important deterrent in this battle against COVID-19.