Several European countries have announced new mask recommendations and requirements, pushing aside fabric masks in favour of surgical masks or medical-grade respirators.
The types of specialist mask involved are surgical masks or KN95 or FFP2 masks.
In Germany, the government last week made medical masks mandatory in shops and on public transport. It also recommends wearing them whenever there is close or prolonged contact with other people, particularly in enclosed spaces.
The government said that medical masks “offer greater protection from the new coronavirus variants than normal cloth masks, which are not subject to any standards with regard to their effectiveness”.
The government earlier announced it would distribute millions of FFP2 masks to people over 60 and those with chronic conditions.
Austria put similar rules into effect on this week, now requiring FFP2 masks or the equivalent in settings including businesses open to the public and indoor and outdoor markets.
To ensure wide adoption of the new regulations, Austria is distributing over a million free masks. Large supermarket chains will also hand out free approved masks.
France’s High Council for Public Health announced last Thursday that it is now recommending people wear surgical masks in public.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran told France Inter that industrially made masks are preferable. “With the best will in the world, homemade masks do not necessarily offer all the necessary guarantees.”
However, Didier Lepelletier, co-president of the Covid-19 council working group, discouraged the general public from using FFP2 filter masks, warning that they are difficult to wear correctly, according to The Local France.
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to recommend that the public use fabric masks, provided that they have at least two layers.
The CDC discourages the public from using medical masks or N95 respirators, saying they should be reserved for healthcare workers. “Nonmedical disposable masks are fine for the general public to use,” the CDC says.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends medical masks for certain groups of people in addition to healthcare workers.
Among those groups are people over 60 and people with underlying health conditions, including chronic respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, as well as people with compromised immune systems.
WHO says fabric masks are suitable for members of the general public who are under 60 and don’t have underlying health conditions.