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Covid-19 second waves curbed by mask-wearing and lockdown

CAPE TOWN- The universal wearing of facemasks in combination with periods of national lockdown is likely to result in curbing the spread of Covid-19 and secondary waves could be prevented, according to a British study.

The scientific study was published in a journal called the “Proceedings of the Royal Society A” by a group of researchers at the Britain’s Cambridge and Greenwich Universities.

Earlier this year, towards the start of the outbreak, the World Health Organization (WHO) did not advise the public to wear facemasks due to the shortage of masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers. New research has prompted the WHO to recommend the wearing of facemasks.

Previously, facemasks were also suggested to be ineffective because wearers could touch their faces more often and increase the probability of contracting the virus. The researchers found that the lack of experimental population-based data on facemask use could not be equated with facemask ineffectiveness.

The novel coronavirus is characterized by an infectious presymptomatic period, when newly infected individuals do not yet display any symptoms but are able to unknowingly transmit the disease to others. The study suggests that wearing a mask in public could prevent the transfer of the virus before the carrier even knows they are infected. 

Researchers in study examined the level of facemask adoption by the public, together with the level of facemask efficiency and lockdown periods to assess the disease’s reproduction rate, or R value. 

In order to ‘flatten the curve’ the R value should be below 1. The R value is used to measure the average number of people that one infected person will pass the disease on to. Anything over 1 will lead to an exponential growth. 

If even 50% of people wear homemade or n95 masks in public, it would be twice as effective at reducing the R value than if masks are only worn after symptoms appear. 

The study suggests that facemask wearing in combination with phases of lockdown could prevent countries from facing a second wave of the outbreak. 

Results in the study would be relevant to developed as well as developing countries, where large numbers of people are resource poor, but fabrication of home-made, effective facemasks is possible.

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