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Doctor backs call for every family to be sent reusable masks

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People wear medical masks in Dublin city centre yesterday

People wear medical masks in Dublin city centre yesterday

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

People wear medical masks in Dublin city centre yesterday

A call to send every household in the country a bundle of reusable face masks has been supported by Dr Cillian de Gascun, chair of the Government's expert advisory group on Covid-19.

Dr de Gascun said there is an inequity where people cannot afford to buy masks or make their own at home.

He was responding to a suggestion by Labour TD Duncan Smith, at the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, who said there was precedent.

He pointed to the distribution of iodine tablets by former Fianna Fail energy minister Joe Jacob in 2002 as part of a plan in the event of a major nuclear accident.

"In the past in this country we have mass provided preventative products in the form of iodine tablets to each household," Mr Smith said.

"Providing proper reusable face masks and clear instructions on how and when to use them is something we need to strongly consider, especially as there is a concern that there could be a seasonal element to the Covid-19 virus, with prevalence in the winter months more likely."

Dr de Gascun described it as a "very good suggestion" and said now is the time to scale up the manufacture of masks.

A packet of 10 standard masks costs around €10 in a supermarket, and a medical grade mask - which the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said people over 60 and those with underlying health conditions should wear - costs €130 for a pack of 200.

The WHO's revised advice is to be reviewed by the National Public Health Emergency Team.

However, Dr de Gascun said the evidence around how effective cloth masks are is not fantastic.

Barrier

He added that masks or cloths should be seen as only an add-on to physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

There is good evidence that medical-grade face masks work in healthcare settings.

They act as a barrier when people cough or sneeze but studies have not shown if the virus is not transmitted, he said.

Australia is in its winter, and in May it saw its mildest flu outbreak in a decade, which could be down to physical distancing and other measures in place to protect against the coronavirus, Dr de Gascun said.

He told Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty that there is no huge evidence around the one- to two-metre rule.

He said it all comes down to virus particles or droplets which emit from people who cough, sneeze, laugh or even speak. "Large ones drop quickly to the ground, typically in one to two metres," Dr de Gascun added.

Smaller particles take a longer time to drop. They can stay in the air for a couple of hours and be moved around by wind currents.