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Can we 'flatten the curve' with face protection?

By Lawrence Tse

The current coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic affects everyone around the world.
Experiences from Asia in places like Hong Kong and Taiwan show that it is possible to significantly slow down the cases of infection (“flatten the curve”), simply by collectively doing things as simple as protecting the face when going out, washing hands, disinfecting surfaces regularly, and carrying out social distancing (keeping 2 metres apart from each other).

Hong Kong in 2003 learnt the lessons during the SARS epidemic. Afterwards, wearing masks became a natural habit in the city when people were unwell, and became more fashionable.

The reason why places like Hong Kong and Taiwan have lower rates of increase in COVID-19 cases, is due to the self awareness of people getting masks and hand sanitisers, well ahead of the advice given by the medical experts and government.

Even when there were initial shortages of surgical mask supply, the civil society came up with some rather inventive solutions, and had carried out tests to see what alternative materials could be used to make DIY masks that could offer some form of protection that were comparable to surgical masks.

Scientific experiments show that a cough spray can reach up to 8 to 9 metres from the person.

Any form of protection is better than no protection. Wearing masks can protect the face from sprays.

Scientific studies show that in situations when surgical masks are not available, using a cotton cloth/T-shirt as outer mask; with a tissue paper or kitchen roll paper as the filter; and even better , followed by a transparent plastic shield, is better than not covering the face.

To give one example, in a joint study by University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital (HKUSZH), Hong Kong Consumer Council, Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI), Hong Kong Science Park (HKSP), and the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering in the City University of Hong Kong (CityU): lab tests results show that a surgical mask can filter 90% of aerosol particles of 25 nanometer in size; while a mask made of two layers of kitchen roll paper and one layer of tissue paper offers almost the same level of filtration.

In conclusion, the more people collectively wearing face masks or shields; and keeping safe isolation distances from each other, the quicker we can 'flatten the curve' and hence, the earlier we can get back to normality.

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