The World Health Organisation (WHO) has just declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
China, Germany, the US and several other countries confirmed the virus can spread person to person, even from people without any symptoms.
Do face masks protect against Coronavirus ?
For a disease with no drug or vaccine yet, non-pharmaceutical measures are the mainstay of control. This includes personal protective equipment, such as face masks.
But the type of face masks we typically see (surgical masks) do not provide a seal around the face or filtration of airborne particles, like those that may carry coronavirus.
They do however provide a limited physical barrier against you transferring the virus from your hand to the face, or from large droplets and splashes of fluid.
However, in countries where transmission is not widespread and there are only a handful of cases being treated in hospital isolation rooms, masks serve no purpose in the community.
For example, there is no need for the general public to use face masks in Australia, US and other counties where a few imported cases are reported, and the risk of catching the virus is low.
In a nutshell
While news of mask shortages might sound scary, if you are in a country with few isolated cases, you don’t need one anyway as the risk of infection is very low for the general public.
Panic buying or stockpiling also means there won’t be enough to go round should the situation worsen.
Even if you do use a face mask, they may protect against large droplets (ones you can feel on your skin when someone sneezes) and self-contamination from your hands, but not against smaller airborne particles.
Don’t forget, hand-washing is also very effective in preventing infection.