Face masks mandatory if we go into red zone: Health Minister

The Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that it will be mandatory for Bhutanese to wear masks if Bhutan goes into the red zone.

In an interview to The Bhutanese she said, “A lot of the countries around the world recommending face masks is due to the presence of community transmission. As per our guidelines if we reach local transmission and go into the red zone social distancing and face masks will be made mandatory.”

Lyonpo said the advice can also be changed based on how an epidemic is behaving.

She said that for example if there is local transmission along the southern borders then it might become compulsory to wear mask in that area.

Lyonpo, during the COVID-19 press conference, said that given that Bhutan does not have community transmission yet, the government cannot give advice to wear or not wear masks.

She said that it is good if people still wear the masks but with no community transmission yet, the government cannot tell the people to wear masks.

The minister said that in the red zone along with mandatory face masks there would be other compulsory things like not allowing movement.

The minister’s comments come in the backdrop of a growing international consensus of using face masks.

The WHO advice was to use face masks only for medical staff, if one has flu symptoms or if one is taking care of a sick person.

The other advice was to keep a distance of 1 to 2 meters since it was thought that droplets from sneeze and cough travelled only that distance.

However, increasing research and data shows that micro-droplets can travel much further and that people even while talking produced micro-droplets. These droplets can carry viruses though there is no definitive agreement yet on if these micro-droplets have enough amounts of virus to start an infection.

If this was not bad enough, then the Center for Disease Control in USA has found that 25 percent of people who get the virus are asymptomatic and hence could be transmitting the virus without knowing it.

As a result, the Center for Disease Control, USA, has recommended the use of face masks by all with medical masks for medical personnel and cloth masks for ordinary people.

Even major Indian cities like Delhi and Mumbai have made face masks mandatory along with states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.

A latest study published in Nature Medicine on how masks are effective at stopping transmission of Corona viruses and influenza said, ‘Surgical face masks significantly reduced detection of influenza virus RNA in respiratory droplets and coronavirus RNA in aerosols, with a trend toward reduced detection of coronavirus RNA in respiratory droplets. Our results indicate that surgical face masks could prevent transmission of human coronaviruses and influenza viruses from symptomatic individuals.’

An older 2008 study published in the Plos One journal which shows that ‘Any type of general mask use is likely to decrease viral exposure and infection risk on a population level, in spite of imperfect fit and imperfect adherence,’

49 other scientific studies also showed the effectiveness of masks including cotton home made ones in stopping infections and viruses.

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