The number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in Austria dropped from 90 to 10 cases per one million people, two weeks after the government required everyone to wear a face mask on April 6.
According to Daily Mail, "Austria seemingly managed to reverse its crisis by making masks compulsory on April 6, following a spike in infections in late March."
This contradicts what the HSE told Irish citizens. The HSE to date does not support this measure and advise that wearing a face mask outside of a healthcare setting is unlikely to be of any benefit if you are not sick.
This is not the case in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As two of the first countries to make masks compulsory in Europe, they now enjoy a small infection rate per capita. 63 Czechs per 100,000 has been infected and less than two per 100,000 have died from the virus. It's lower in Slovakia, 21 per 100,000 people have caught it and just 0.2 per 100,000 have succumbed to the illness.
"The big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren't wearing masks," said George Gao, the director-general of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, to The Telegraph.
Gao added, "This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role - you've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth."
Countries have seen varying degrees of success with face masks. 40 days since the 100th case of COVID-19, US, Italy and Spain have over 100,000 COVID-19-positive cases. The number of cases didn't slow down nor plateau because they didn't wear masks to slow down the spread.
Many are now wondering if public health advice in Ireland will change too, especially when the government begins to lift restrictions. The challenges around sourcing adequate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers in Ireland have been well documented. Clearly, PPE supply and use by healthcare workers needs to be prioritized and protected. However, in recent days the HSE advised that adequate PPE supplies to meet current demands have been sourced. They have also moved to broaden guidance on the use of surgical masks by all healthcare workers in all healthcare settings when providing care to patients within two meters of a patient.
Before this pandemic, most people had probably never considered wearing a face mask and many might have viewed the practice as excessive. However, as more people wear face masks in public, the behaviour becomes more relatable as everyone endures their own concerns and set of circumstances around the Covid-19 pandemic.
As we anticipate announcements on how the Government intends to ease current restrictions, it remains to be seen whether wearing a face mask will form part of the strategy. However, after The National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU) calls for the compulsory wearing of face masks on all public transport, it looks like this trend might be here to stay.