KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — Wearing face masks in public as is popular now amid a global outbreak of the 2019-nCoV coronavirus is not really necessary, a World Health Organisation (WHO) representative said today, backing the advice from a Malaysian specialist doctor last month.
The head of mission and WHO representative to Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Dr Ying-Ru Lo said that wearing a face mask or even a surgical mask is not a guarantee against contracting the Wuhan virus and may lull the public into a false sense of security.
Instead, she advised the public to make proper personal hygiene their top priority.
“So wearing a face mask, a surgical mask, gives a false sense of security, and I fully agree with Dr Benedict Sim. So wearing a medical mask can help limit the spread of some respiratory diseases, but using a mask alone, first of all, it’s not easy to use,” she said in an interview with BernamaTV this afternoon that was also aired live on the internet.
Dr Sim is the Sungai Buloh Hospital’s senior consultant physician on infectious disease and was reported by local daily New Straits Times as early as last month to have demurred on the necessity to regularly wear a face mask in public when there haven’t been any local transmissions of the new coronavirus yet.
“Doctors and nurses are trained how to use a mask, how to put it on, how to wear it, how to handle it and how to take it off and dispose it properly.
“It’s not guaranteed to stop infections. So you should always comply with other prevention measures like hand washing using alcoholic rubs and avoiding close contact. If your mask is contaminated, you touch your mask and you touch your face, and it’s over,” Dr Lo explained.
Dr Lo is an infectious diseases physician based in Germany who joined WHO in 1998. Her expertise includes translating research into implementation. She led the implementation of HIV treatment in Asia in the early 1990s.
She carries with her over three decades of work experience as a clinician and public health adviser and more recently, had led the introduction of hepatitis treatment in Asia.
In the NST report, Dr Sim had explained why he did not recommend using the general public to wear the N95 grade masks at the moment, noting that there were “technical challenges” to ensure it fit the contours of the face properly for full coverage, without contaminating the hands.
Can reinfection happen?
In the interview, Dr Lo was asked if an infected person who had recovered from the Wuhan virus could be reinfected or would have developed an immunity to it.
“Some people who recovered have fought off the virus, but additional research is needed to determine the level of immunity against reinfection. So we don’t really know at this stage,” she replied.
Dr Lo said that from an observation of the situation in China, most who tend to contract the virus are usually over 60 years-old and/ or have underlying ailments.
When asked about the statistics of those who have been infected and recovered, Dr Lo said that such specific data is not yet available.
“Since the novel coronavirus causes a different range of clinical manifestations, from mild disease to severe disease, it is very difficult to determine those who’ve had self-limiting disease. So they got healthy by themselves.
“Many of them maybe didn’t go to the doctor, so at this point in time it is very difficult to ascertain the number of people who have recovered,” she added.