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You don't have to wear face masks, but you should: Zweli Mkhize

Mixed messages have been put out about whether face masks are effective in minimising exposure to Covid-19.
Mixed messages have been put out about whether face masks are effective in minimising exposure to Covid-19.
Image: 123RF / maridav

Everyone should wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

This was the message from health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, through his spokesperson Lwazi Manzi, on Wednesday.

Manzi told SowetanLIVE's sister publication TimesLIVE that Mkhize had sent out a clear message that masks should be worn by everyone.

“The minister did speak about this at length and clarified that masks should be worn, so that people protect themselves,” she said.

Speaking at a press conference in Durban on Tuesday, Mkhize said: “There is no question that the use of masks is one of the best ways of preventing the spread of infection. We recommend them – particularly where people have any cough or any symptoms, or in a situation where social distancing is a bit difficult.”

On Wednesday, transport minister Fikile Mbalula announced stepped-back regulations for the taxi industry that included, among other things, that taxis could be full to capacity provided all passengers were wearing masks.

There has been some debate over the use and effectiveness of the masks, however.

Dr Nils von Delft, an East London-based anaesthetist, wrote on the iCanHelp Buffalo City Facebook page encouraging residents to use masks.

“The idea behind this is 'I protect you, and you protect me' – so not just to protect yourself, but rather to protect others, in case you might unknowingly be spreading the virus without having symptoms,” he wrote.

Von Delft said wearing a mask decreased the spread of TB, which he said was a major problem in SA.

“The combination of Covid-19 plus TB is a dreaded one, which will put even more strain on our hospitals, compared to other countries where TB is not a major problem. So the idea behind #Mask4All is dual in nature: to flatten the corona curve, as well as the TB curve.”

A homemade material mask was “adequate” to wear in public, he added.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that a mask should only be worn by those who have tested positive for Covid-19, or those looking after people who have the virus.

“The most effective ways to protect yourself and others against Covid-19 are to frequently clean your hands, cover your cough with the bend of elbow or tissue, and maintain a distance of at least one metre from people who are coughing or sneezing,” the WHO says on its website.

Also, the Western Cape government has told its residents to not wear masks because of the risks they pose if not used properly.

“In general, PPE [personal protective equipment] such as masks and gloves are only needed if you are in direct contact with or caring for a person who is confirmed or suspected to have Covid-19 at home or in a health facility,” said the provincial government in a statement.

“This is part of infection control. Scientific evidence proves that by wearing a mask, if it is not needed, you may put yourself at higher risk because you fiddle with the mask and then transfer germs from your hands to your face.”