Sunday Panel: Should we all be wearing face masks?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sun, 5 Apr 2020, 2:11PM
(Photo / Getty)

Sunday Panel: Should we all be wearing face masks?

Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sun, 5 Apr 2020, 2:11PM

Top health officials are poised to receive advice from the World Health Organisation in the coming days as to whether all New Zealanders should be wearing face masks in public at all times.

The rationale behind the thinking lies in the plan to limit the spread of Covid-19 from those who have the virus, but are not showing any symptoms.

This comes as the number of confirmed and probable Covid-19 cases jumped by 82, taking the total to 950.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield was optimistic about the numbers.

"It may well be its peaking now because we're seeing it flattening off."

Over the past week, the number of new Covid-19 cases has been levelling out.

"What we have seen over the last four or five days is effectively a flattening off of the number of new cases, including over the last two or three days with that much higher level of testing," Bloomfield said.

But he added he would need to see that trend continue for two or three more days before he knew for sure whether there had been a flattening off.

As he waits to observe the new case numbers, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay says she will be keeping a close eye on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) about face masks.

That advice will confirm whether or not everyone in New Zealand should be wearing face masks when out in public, to limit the spread of Covid-19.

According to Ministry of Health advice, people can have the disease but not be showing symptoms.

Any new face mask rules would be aimed at limiting the spread from those individuals.
But McElnay told reporters that face masks worn by the community at large was "right at the very bottom of our strategies for containment of Covid-19".

She said other measures, such as proper hygiene etiquette, were more effective in limiting the disease's spread.

Earlier today, the US' Centres for Disease Control recommended all Americans wear face masks when they leave their home.

This message, however, was almost immediately contradicted by US President Donald Trump who told people the recommendation was "voluntary" and he himself would not be following the advice.

But Bloomfield was quick to point out that the US was in a "very different situation from what New Zealand is at the moment".

"They have clearly widespread infections and widespread community transmission," he said after McElnay's comments on face masks.

"They have a much lower rate of testing and that's partly why they have… gone to advising the use of face [masks]."

He said the US had a wider infection rate across the community – "we're not in that position".

He said New Zealand had moved "much faster than America", with much more stringent controls and much more strict self-isolation rules.

Asked about the factors which would be required for New Zealand to come out of alert level four, Bloomfield said that work was ongoing.

"But we will be providing advice to Cabinet in the coming days on that."