The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has cautioned the public that the use of face masks can still pose a risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19) if they are not managed appropriately. As the number of infections continues to rise, many South Africans wear gloves and face masks to protect themselves when venturing out to get essential goods such as food or medicine.

Those who are ill are also advised to wear masks as the virus seems to prey on weakened immune systems.

South Africa now has 3 034 confirmed cases, including 903 recoveries and the death toll now stands at 52.

Interim Executive Director of the NICD Professor Lynn Morris says although it is advised to use a face mask, people should avoid fiddling with the mask and should also sanitise their hands before and after removing it.

“You know there are indications that the virus can hang around and there’s a publication very recently to suggest that it can hang around under laboratory conditions up to an hour. We don’t have all the information; this situation is evolving so rapidly, we learning as we going along. If you’re somebody who’s wearing a mask to protect yourself and somebody does cough on you, then those droplets could be on the outside of that mask and it is very important to then, when you take the mask off, that you don’t touch the outside of that mask. I think if people wear masks and they wear them properly; it’s definitely something that is recommended for healthy people.”

In the video below, SABC News speaks to a medical doctor for clarity on wearing masks to curb the spread of COVID-19:

WHO concerned about the shortage of masks

The World Health Organisation (WHO) voiced concern in early April that the wearing of medical masks by the general public could exacerbate the shortage for health workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gheybresus said he noted that several countries were considering new recommendations on masks.

“First and foremost, medical masks must be prioritised for health workers on the front lines of the response. We are concerned that the mass use of medical masks by the general population could exacerbate the shortage of these specialised masks for the people who need them most. Masks alone cannot stop the pandemic, countries must continue to find, test, isolate and treat every case and trace every contact,” he told a virtual news conference.

Mkhize encourages people to observe good hygiene practices

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize last Saturday encouraged people to make it their culture to maintain social distancing and hand hygiene even after the national lockdown period. He said South Africans should get used to social distancing as some people may not show symptoms of COVID-19.

“We need to get used to the fact that from now on there is a new culture, no hugs, no kissing, no shaking of hands, keep at a distance, keep at least one meter apart and if somebody’s coughing look away or use your elbow if you are coughing. But in addition, we want that distancing. And this must be now part of our new culture of how we want to keep that curve flat. And we think that the curve can be kept flat if people can keep on to this issue. It’s already showing that is beginning to work and so we want to encourage that.”