We are not used to seeing face masks as common streetwear in New Zealand, but it is probably something we are going to have to get used to.
Masks have been a feature of life in Asia, but have this year also become more common in the Americas, Europe, and Africa as an effective aid to reduce the spread of Covid-19, especially as evidence of asymptomatic transmission has grown.
Our Australian cousins are getting to grips with the new reality as coronavirus conditions get worse across the ditch.
From Thursday masks will be required "whenever practical" outside people's homes in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell area of Victoria. Not wearing one will incur a A$200 fine. Victoria recorded 363 new cases on Sunday and three deaths, taking the state's toll to 38. New South Wales on Sunday reported 18 new cases – a three-month high.
United States studies have found that wearing some type of face covering is better than nothing at all in reducing Covid-19 spread.
A homemade and multi-layered stitched mask performed well in tests of masks that people can easily find to wear. Droplets travelled much shorter distances than if a bandana-type covering was used. An uncovered cough could carry droplets between 2.5m and 3.5m.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has cited the case of a Missouri hair salon, where two hairdressers worked on 139 clients in May, while wearing either a double-layered cotton or surgical mask, before testing positive for Covid-19. Many clients reported wearing masks as well. No coronavirus symptoms were identified among the clients.
Researchers are looking into whether masks can give the user personal protection as well as protecting other people, and whether the amount of transmission is linked to the severity of a resulting illness.
The World Health Organisation says the best coverings are surgical masks, and particularly the FFP and N95 respirators which are required by health workers on the frontlines. They are exposed the most to infected patients and need the best protection. Currently, hard-hit countries such as the US still struggle to have enough of the best kind of protective gear for their medical staff.
A clear lesson from this pandemic is that top-quality masks need to be manufactured to a greater degree around the world – to firstly ensure that medical staff have plentiful supplies but also to secondly have enough so that they can be more widely available to anyone.
Former Obama Administration healthcare official Andy Slavitt tweeted: "Masks are being designed today that are washable, more breathable, better fitting, two way & N95 quality. Now we need to … rapidly approve these designs & increase production".
At some stage, good-quality and reliable masks could theoretically become an alternative to future hard lockdowns when combined with social distancing and hand hygiene.
Here, boxes of disposable single-use masks have become supermarket items. And multi-layered cloth masks should be considered a useful tool for personal protection - if not for later in this pandemic, then for any future virus outbreaks.