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Government expert backs call to send every home a bundle of reusable face masks


Dr Cillian de Gascun attended the Dáil Covid-19 committee. Picture: Collins

Dr Cillian de Gascun attended the Dáil Covid-19 committee. Picture: Collins

Dr Cillian de Gascun attended the Dáil Covid-19 committee. Picture: Collins

Calls to send every household in the country a bundle of reusable face masks to reduce Covid-19 transmission are being supported by Dr Cillian de Gascun, chair of the Government's expert advisory group on the virus.

Dr de Gascun said there is a current inequity where people cannot afford to buy them or make their own homemade masks.

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

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

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

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

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

Dr de Gascun, however, said the evidence around how effective cloth masks are is not fantastic. He said face masks or cloths should only be seen as an add-on to physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette.

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

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

Questioned by Fine Gael TD Fergus O'Dowd about the risks in vulnerable areas like nursing homes this winter, he said Australia is currently in its winter and in May it saw its mildest flu outbreak in a decade which could be down to the physical distancing and other measures in place to protect against Covid-19.

Mr O'Dowd said if people go online they don't know what quality of mask they are buying.

Dr De Gascun told Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty 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. Smaller particles take a longer time to drop."

They can stay in the air for a couple of hours and can be moved around by wind currents, he added.

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