Ministry’s mask-use advice at odds with PM adviser’s stand | India News

NEW DELHI: The health ministry on Tuesday said it is framing guidelines for home-made masks. However, its current guidelines on masks saying their use should be limited depending on the risk of exposure and that healthy people do not need to wear masks are at variance with a manual released by K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the PM, suggesting home-made masks as a strategy to prevent the spread of Covid-19 disease.
On the other hand, ICMR chief epidemiologist Dr R R Gangakhedkar said India must not be compared to other western countries where the incidence of the disease is much higher. “Masks are to prevent the risk of exposure to the infection. Let us not compare India with the US where the Centre for Diseases Control has advised people to wear masks. The level of disease outbreak in India is not the same as in the US,” he said.
While Lav Agarwal, joint secretary in the health ministry, at the same briefing as Dr Gangakhedkar, said that masks were a scarce resource and everyone need not use one, earlier on Tuesday, K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific adviser to the PM, tweeted: “Masks lower the chances of coronavirus entering the respiratory system through droplets still in the air from an infected person, reducing the chances of inhaling the virus. Especially useful for people in densely populated areas.”
The tweet was not necessarily at odds with the “risk exposure” criteria but suggested widespread use which the health ministry did not. Raghavan advocated home-made masks, noting “home-made masks are 70% effective and in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with soap and water or frequent hand rubbing with alcohol-based sanitiser”.
However, home-made masks did not immediately receive approval of the health ministry with Agarwal saying guidelines will be issued soon. Gangakhedkar was more forthright, saying, “the US today is the second most Covid-affected country after Italy. Indian outbreak is at a very different level. The probability of exposure to Covid in India is low. So, only sick people should wear masks. The better way to prevent Covid spread is social distancing which India is following.”
Agarwal also said people should wear masks only when needed and when they are suffering from cough and need to wear a mask to prevent the infection from spreading. “Masks are a scarce commodity which we must use judiciously,” Agarwal said. He said the PSA’s manual is being technically examined by the experts and guidance will be issued in time, even as he maintained that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) has not specifically advised countries on the use of home-made masks.
As per health ministry’s current guidance, healthy persons need to wear a mask only if they are taking care of a person suspected with Covid-19 infection. Besides, one who is coughing or sneezing should wear a mask. “Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water,” the health ministry guidance says.

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