At Tuesday's press conference, The Local asked state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell about a recent literature review by Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and McMaster University in Canada, which suggests that cloth face masks can be effective in reducing the spread of viruses similar to the coronavirus.
“That report is saying the same thing as numerous reports from earlier on, that cloth masks will stop droplets from coming through to a certain extent. If that can be translated into some kind of effect in the community, the authors say they don't know,” Tegnell responded.
“So I think this has not moved the knowledge further. We do know that there might be some kind of effect of having a cloth mask on in stopping droplets. If that can be translated into some kind of effect on community transmission, remains to be shown a bit clearer than has been done so far.”
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The authors of the literature review said the articles studied did not provide clear proof that face masks would reduce transmission of the coronavirus, but they said the research available was sufficient to recommend the wearing of face masks.
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A woman wearing a face mask in Stockholm. Photo: Erik Simander/TT
This is in line with the World Health Organisation's own statements on face masks, which acknowledge that the scientific benefit is still unclear but advises using them as a complementary measure especially in environments where physical distancing is hard. Such a stance has been adopted by many countries worldwide, including Nordic neighbour Denmark in recent weeks.
The Local asked if it was possible to get the kind of scientific proof regarding face masks that would be sufficient for the Public Health Agency to change its recommendations.
“I mean, it's obviously quite difficult to get any kind of clear proof of anything when it comes to Covid-19, not least lockdowns and a number of other measures, and the same thing applies to face masks,” Tegnell said.
“As the ECDC [European Centre for Disease Control] and WHO [World Health Organisation] and others write, there might be situations where face masks might be a good addition to other things; when you see an outbreak starting up, if you have places where you can't avoid crowding and so on, there might be a need for face masks if you see your epidemiology moving in a direction that is unfavourable.
“Right now in Sweden we have a fairly sharp decrease of cases. Adding a face mask in this situation is maybe not the right move. If we see problems again, of course we will look at face masks as we will look at other measures and see if there are situations where they might make a difference. Once again we need to remember that face masks to protect you from getting ill if you belong to a risk group, is not a very safe way of looking at it.”