COVID-19: Global study shows mask-wearing decreases virus' prevalence by 53 percent

New research conducted by public health experts from Australia, the UK and China has found mask-wearing can significantly reduce the rate of COVID-19 transmission.

The study found the rate of COVID-19 transmission decreases by 53 percent when masks are worn.

Almost 255 million people worldwide have contracted the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 respiratory disease, and more than 5 million people have died from the virus since the pandemic unfolded last year. 

"This systematic review and meta-analysis suggest 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 said in the study, published in the British Medical Journal.

The leading researchers also found social distancing reduced COVID-19's prevalence by 25 percent.

While many countries like the UK have ditched mandatory mask-wearing, it's currently compulsory to wear masks in New Zealand when accessing essential services and retail.

The researchers mention New Zealand in the study, highlighting the benefits of our lockdowns on reducing COVID-19 mortality rates. They said, however, lockdowns aren't sustainable and "more tailored interventions" are needed.

That's where mask-wearing and other public health measures, and vaccination come into play.

"Worldwide, government and public health organisations are mitigating the spread of SARS-CoV-2 by implementing various public health measures. This systematic review identified a statistically significant reduction in the incidence of COVID-19 through the implementation of mask-wearing and physical distancing," the researchers said.

"Current evidence from quantitative analyses indicates a benefit associated with handwashing, mask-wearing, and physical distancing in reducing the incidence of COVID-19. 

"The narrative results of this review indicate the effectiveness of both individual or packages of public health measures on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and incidence of COVID-19.

"Some of the public health measures seem to be more stringent than others and have a greater impact on economies and the health of populations."

The researchers said further research will be needed once more widespread vaccination levels are reached globally.

"It is likely that further control of the COVID-19 pandemic depends not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness but also on ongoing adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures."

The New Zealand Government will continue using mask-wearing when the country moves away from lockdowns and into the 'traffic light system'. For example at 'orange', the setting the Prime Minister indicated most of the country outside of Auckland will be moved to in a couple of weeks, face coverings will remain mandatory on flights, public transport, in taxis, retail and public venues. 

That's pretty much the same as the 'red' setting where Auckland will be moved to, except they're also recommended: "whenever leaving the house."

New Zealand's Ministry of Health says wearing a face covering "is one of the main ways we can protect ourselves and each other" from the Delta variant. 

"In general, we should all wear a face covering such as a disposable or washable mask whenever we leave our home."

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