What personal protective measures should the public take in common areas such as supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and offices?
A statement from the epidemiological monitoring unit and the scientific advisory committee of the Health Ministry underlines that any additional protection such as gloves or marks is complementary and should not replace other protective measures which are more effective in reducing the risk of coronavirus infection.
These are: maintaining a two metre distance from others, avoiding crowded, indoor areas, frequent washing of the hands and not touching the face with the hands, with or without gloves.
Here are the main points from its announcement:
This is considered the most effective measure in curbing the spread of the virus. Hands must be washed carefully and frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based antiseptic, particularly after touching surfaces in common areas, when leaving the place you have just visited and before entering your personal space such as your car or home. At all times avoid touching your face with your hands and if essential only with clean hands.
Even though the use of gloves is recommended in a number of work places in order to prevent the spread of the virus, hand hygiene before and after use of the gloves is essential. In such cases the gloves must be put on before entering common areas and then thrown in the bin immediately on exiting after which the hands must be cleaned.
The use of gloves throughout the time outside the house is not recommended as their use creates a false sense of security and increases the risk of not complying with the other important measures. Moreover, gloves easily suffer wear and tear both in use and from the alcohol-based antiseptics. In cases of wear and tear or extended use they must be properly disposed of and the hands cleaned and if necessary a new pair worn.
Even though there is currently no precise scientific data to support the wearing of masks in common areas, their use aims to stop respiratory secretions of the person wearing them. Potentially therefore, they can contain the spread of the virus to others from people who have the virus and are symptomatic or asymptomatic. They may also protect the person wearing them from direct exposure of the mouth and nose to the droplets of others close to them. Their use however carries the risk of creating a false sense of security and it is stressed once again that if used, masks are a complementary measures and the other measures must always be adhered to — two metres distance, isolation of positive cases and their contacts. As a mask may tear it must be disposed of after a few hours of wearing, when it is visibly dirty or wet, or when leaving the indoor areas where they were used.
The use of improvised cloth masks do not protect but instead pose a risk. Moreover a high protection mask or face shield have no benefits if used in the community. So if a decision is taken to use a mask, this should be a surgical mask.
The epidemiological monitoring unit and the scientific advisory committee of the Health Ministry said it was following international bibliography and in the event of a change in the data or instructions it will advise the Health Minister accordingly so that the public can be informed.
It added that the suggestions are based on the expertise and scientific data in other countries and medical bibliography.