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Why in news?

India’s highest science advisory body, the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser (PSA), and the Union Health Ministry appear out of sync on whether masks should be widely used by people.

Ministry’s view

  • The Ministry’s standing recommendation is that NOT everybody should be wearing masks.
  • Among those who are not healthcare workers, only those who had a cough or exhibited signs of a flu or a respiratory illness need to be wearing them as did those caring for COVID-19 patients.
  • The reason this isn’t recommended for the public at large — though now almost anyone on the street can be seen to be wearing them — is that it will lead to a shortage and unavailability for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.

Views of Office of Principal Security Adviser (PSA)

  • The office of the PSA through the Press Information Bureau recommended the widespread use of masks.
  • It endorsed, above all, home-made masks that could easily be made and were reusable with washing and sanitising.
  • The proposed guide is meant to provide a simple outline of best practices to make, use and reuse masks to enable NGOs and individuals to self-create such masks and accelerate widespread adoption of masks across India.
  • The key criteria for proposed designs are Ease of Access to Materials, Easy of Making at Home, Ease of Use and Reuse. Wearing of masks is especially recommended for people living in densely populated areas across India.
  • It does NOT recommend the use of the health mask or the N95 mask that are expensive, not-reusable and largely used in hospital settings.

What the future holds?

  • The World Health Organization hasn’t given a categorical opinion on its [mask] usage. However, a technical committee is looking into this issue and suitable guidelines will be issued soon.
  • The government will be taking more notice of the fact there may be a sizeable number of asymptomatic carriers of the infection — some studies suggest nearly 25% of COVID-19 infected may be asymptomatic — and wearing a mask is a good precautionary measure.
  • Many people have asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others.
March 2024