Sydney, Nov 18 : While vaccinations are safe, effective and saving lives around the world against Covid, wearing masks is the most effective public health measure that can reduce the incidence of the deadly infectious disease by more than half, according to a study.
The study led by an international team of researchers from Australia, the UK and China conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of non-pharmaceutical interventions showing for the first time that mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing are all effective measures at curbing cases -- with mask wearing the most effective.
Researchers at Monash University and the University of Edinburgh analysed more than 30 studies from around the world and found a statistically significant 53 per cent reduction in the incidence of Covid with mask wearing; a 25 per cent reduction with physical distancing. Handwashing also indicated a substantial 53 per cent reduction in Covid incidence.
"This systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that several personal protective and social measures, including handwashing, mask wearing, and physical distancing are associated with reductions in the incidence Covid-19," the researchers wrote in the paper published in the BMJ.
The findings come as several countries have loosened masking requirements, citing vaccine efficacy. But experts have warned against lifting mask mandates. Although vaccines have proved to be safe and effective, yet most vaccines do not confer 100 per cent protection. Moreover, it is also not known how vaccines will prevent future transmission of SARS-CoV-2, given emerging variants.
Until herd immunity to Covid-19 is reached, regardless of the already proven high vaccination rates, public health preventive strategies are likely to remain as first choice measures in disease prevention, particularly in places with a low uptake of Covid-19 vaccination, the researchers said.
"Public health efforts to implement public health measures should consider community health and socio-cultural needs, and future research is needed to better understand the effectiveness of public health measures in the context of covid-19 vaccination," they noted.
A comparative study in the Hong Kong reported a statistically significant lower cumulative incidence of Covid-19 associated with mask wearing than in selected countries where mask wearing was not mandatory.
Similarly, another natural experiment involving 15 US states reported a 2 per cent statistically significant daily decrease in Covid-19 transmission more than 21 days after mask wearing became mandatory, whereas a cross sectional study reported that a 10 per cent increase in self-reported mask wearing was associated with greater odds for control of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.
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