Last week Tuesday, minister of Health and Wellness, Dr Lemogang Kwape was seen addressing people quarantined at the Institute of Health Science (IHS) in Gaborone without a protective facemask on.
Commentators disapproved the minister’s action saying he was putting himself at risk of contracting the virus.
Another doctor leading the fight against the coronavirus in Botswana, Dr Malaki Tshipiyagae, director of Health Services also chose not to wear a mask at the airport when government officials gathered to receive Jack Ma’s donations.
While everyone was covering their mouths and noses with various masks Tshipiyagae was just there holding his given mask in hand. So why are these essential doctors not leading by example and wearing masks in the face of COVID-19? According to Tshipiyagae, not everyone is required to wear a mask as a protective measure against coronavirus.
“Masks are supposed to be used by people who are sick and show symptoms, and those who are caring for people who are suspected to have the virus,” Tshipiyagae explained.
He also cautioned that the way people are rushing to buy surgical masks could create problems for the frontline staff because they might deplete the supplies.Tshipiyagae added: “I need to have a stockpile of masks so that health workers are never short of masks because they must be the ones wearing the masks when attending patients”.
He discouraged people from unnecessarily buying of facemasks.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) also discourages people to just wear a mask thinking it is the best protection against coronavirus. The WHO guidelines on when to wear a mask says:
- If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
- Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
But not everyone agrees.
Gao is an authoritative voice in the fight against coronavirus because of his vast experience. In January, he was part of a team that did the first isolation and sequencing of severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19.
Gao told Science that not wearing masks to protect against coronavirus is a big mistake as America, Europe and African countries do.
“The big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren’t wearing masks. This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact. Droplets play a very important role –you’ve got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth. Many people have asymptomatic or presymptomatic infections. If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others,” Gao said.
In China and the entire East Asia, people wear masks by default. The BBC reports that East Asian governments are urging everyone to wear a mask, and in some parts of China you could even be arrested and punished for not wearing one.
Apart from masks, there is a consensus on the following preventative measures:
- Wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub
- Cover your nose and mouth with a disposable tissue or flexed elbow when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid close contact (one metre) with people who are unwell
- Stay home and self-isolate from others in the household if you feel unwell
- Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth if your hands are not clean.
COVID-19 does not have a vaccine and the only way to beat it is by prevention.