Coronavirus: Siouxsie Wiles warns harakeke face masks may not be protective

Purewa MacGregor's harakeke face masks.
Purewa MacGregor's harakeke face masks. Photo credit: Maori Television screengrab

A New Zealand scientist is warning that "beautiful" harakeke-woven face masks may not offer enough protection from COVID-19

During lockdown, Hawke's Bay artist Purewa MacGregor has been weaving face masks from flax and selling them to local customers.

But microbiologist Dr Siouxsie Wiles says although they look nice, they don't offer a lot of protection.

"They are really beautiful - but just like cloth masks they don't protect people from infection," she told Newshub.

She says they may help reduce the spread of the virus from people who don't realise they're infected, but there would need to be guidance on how to put them on and off again without contaminating the masks or the user and directions on how to clean and disinfect them.

"For cloth masks, we say they should be washed and left to dry properly. Not sure how this would work for the woven part."

The Ministry of Health recommends basic hygiene measures including regularly washing your hands and staying home if you're sick as the most effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19.

It says personal protective equipment such as face masks can reduce the spread of infection when used properly and in the appropriate context, but this is often only recommended in workplaces where people are more likely to come in contact with the disease.