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Report on the use of face coverings to prevent coronavirus infections: large variation in country-specific policies and only little research data available

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health 29.5.2020 14.32 | Published in English on 29.5.2020 at 16.45
Press release 136/2020

In accordance with the relevant government resolution, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has drawn up a report on the use of face coverings to prevent coronavirus (COVID-19) infections. The report has now been published and submitted to the Government.

The report contains an overview of the relevant research evidence, the recommendations issued by international health organisations and a summary of the policies adopted by certain other countries. Based on these, the report has drawn conclusions as to whether face coverings can help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic.

International practices and reasoning for decisions vary

The World Health Organization (WHO), the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) have all stated that the primary means of preventing coronavirus infections are avoiding close contact with others (maintaining a distance of at least 1–2 meters from other people and avoiding unnecessary time in public places), washing one’s hands according to the guidelines and practicing good hygiene when coughing and sneezing.

However, during the pandemic, many countries have decided on the use of face coverings. The report states that the policies adopted vary considerably from one country to another with regard to which extent the countries have recommended or obliged people to wear face coverings. The reasoning behind these decisions also vary greatly.

Research suggests face coverings have minimal benefits

According to the literary review included in the report, the effect of the use of face coverings on the spread of respiratory infections among the population is, based on evidence from research, minor.  In laboratory conditions, face coverings have proved to reduce, at least to some extent, the spread of micro-organisms through the air that we breathe.

In theory, a face covering may help the user prevent the spread of COVID-19 to some extent, but it does not provide protection against infection.  There are also risks connected with the use of face coverings, and that is why face coverings should be used properly and hygienically. The report states that, if not used properly, face coverings are considered to increase the risk of the spread of infections.

Inquiries

Pasi Pohjola, Director, [email protected]

Marjukka Mäkelä, Professor Emerita, Summaryx Oy, [email protected], (systematic literary review)