This week, public health experts reiterated a call for New Zealanders to "mass-mask" to help prevent the transmission of the Covid-19 coronavirus despite official Government advice resolutely insisting it wasn't necessary.
It would seem the debate has reached an impasse and it's not surprisingly left a confused public to adopt wildly varying strategies ranging from surgical grade masks, to bandannas and silk scarves to bare-faced nothing when out and about.
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In his now famililar understated fashion, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield all but acknowledged the bewilderment this week when he stated: "We are aware that the issue of the general public wearing masks continues to generate attention."
Leading the pro-mask movement, Otago University professors Nick Wilson and Michael Baker, and doctors Sophie Febery, Ling Chan and Amanda Kvalsvig fired the latest shot in the debate by saying there was "significant" indirect evidence from mask-wearing countries to indicate the practice was an effective public health measure when combined with hand-washing and physical distancing.
They said airline and ships crew, who were currently exempt from quarantine requirements, could reduce the risk of bringing new cases into the country particularly as rapid contact tracing was difficult among people travelling.
They said mass masking would reassure international students and others flying between here in Australia in a future transtasman bubble, while also helping protect staff at the borders.
They said mass-masking could also create a "new norm" for people which could be important if more widespread mask deployment was needed in the case of a setback in pandemic control.
"Another benefit of mass masking over the winter months is the suppression of influenza and other respiratory viruses," they said.
However, a review, commissioned by the Ministry of Health's chief science adviser, Dr Ian Town, and published on May 6, explored the approaches other countries had taken and found no need to order mass uptake of facial coverings. While it found evidence of potential benefits, it also identified potential harm, and the science wasn't conclusive.
This is also the line being taken by Bloomfield, who has said those in higher-risk environments, such as public transport, may wish to wear masks but they would not be compelled to. "We've just had another look at the evidence. People may wish to use a mask. If they know how to use it properly, that's fine, but at this point we won't be insisting on masking."
Bloomfield said it was common for people in South-east Asia to wear masks in public, but that was often because they had a cold and were trying to prevent germs from spreading.
The conundrum is, used incorrectly or wearing inferior or contaminated products, could raise the risk of infection rather than prevention.
It may be that masks could be more effective at instilling public confidence than controlling contagion but, if opting for one, it is essential to properly research how to wear and maintain it.
More importantly, keep washing your hands.