Use homemade mask when stepping out: Govt

Abantika Ghosh
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The World Health Organisation (WHO), however, has said there is no evidence that covering the face has any “self-protection paradigm.” (File)

AS THE number of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases climbed to 3,072 and the toll rose to 75 on Saturday, the Health Ministry, for the first time, advised use of “homemade face cover” for those stepping out of their houses, saying this would “help in protecting the community at large”.

In the US too, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised the earlier stand and recommended “the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus”.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), however, has said there is no evidence that covering the face has any “self-protection paradigm.”

Meanwhile, of the total COVID-19 positive cases reported across the country so far, 8.61% are in the 0-20 years age group, 41.88% in 21-40 years, 32.82% in 41-60 years, and 16.69% above 60 years.

(According to the 2011 census, about 40.71% of the population fall in the 0-19 years age group; about 31.93% in 20-39 years; about 18.41% in 40-60 years; and about 8.57% over 60 years.)

Currently, there are 58 critical cases, mostly from Kerala, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi.

The ICMR has also issued an advisory for the use of rapid antibody tests in “areas reporting clusters (containment zone) and in large migration gatherings/ evacuees centres”. The results of the antibody test can either be confirmed using RT-PCR - the DNA-based test - or the antibody test can be repeated after 10 days of home quarantine.

And, in the first sign that the “all-patients-in-hospital” rule is being relaxed, it said: “If symptoms worsen, refer to designated COVID-2019 hospitals. When home quarantine is not feasible, consider facility-based quarantine”.

In its late night advisory on Friday, the Health Ministry said: “It is suggested that such people who are not suffering from medical conditions or having breathing difficulties may use the handmade reusable face cover, particularly when they step out of their house. This will help in protecting the community at large. This face cover is not recommended for either health workers or those working with or in contact with COVID-19 patients or are patients themselves as these categories of people are required to wear specified protective gear.”

The government also said Ayushman Bharat beneficiaries can opt for testing and treatment for COVID-19 free of cost at private laboratories and empanelled hospitals. “Testing and treatment of COVID-19 is already available for free in public facilities. Now, more than 50 crore citizens, eligible under the health assurance scheme, will be able to avail free testing through private labs and treatment for COVID-19 in empanelled hospitals,” said the National Health Authority, which implements Ayushman Bharat.

Lav Agarwal, Joint Secretary, Health Ministry, clarified that the ministry had not changed its earlier position on the use of masks.

“The earlier guidelines remain; medical masks are to be used when someone is sick, when caring for an ill person; the new guidelines are for homemade face or mouth cover, not masks per se. This is a way of increasing personal hygiene. These are cloth coverings that can be used in densely populated areas when going out. a barrier approach that is not meant for health workers. Also, these should not be shared. If there are four people in a family, they should have their own individual ones, ideally two each so that they can be washed and used,” he said.

In the US, the CDC issued a similar recommendation. “CDC is additionally advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure,” it said.

The WHO said while it supports such calls, based on the level of transmission and resources available in a country, there is “clear evidence that wearing a mask in public places does not protect you.”

WHO Executive Director Dr Mike Ryan also emphasised that surgical and medical masks such as N95, FFP2 and FFP3 respirators are for the medical system and must be prioritised for use by frontline health workers.

Meanwhile, with 11,182 samples being tested in the last 24 hours, 79,950 samples have been tested across the country so far. The ICMR said 3,113 positive cases had been detected till now.

The government has decided to cover testing and treatment for COVID-19 under its Ayushman Bharat Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (AB-PMJAY). While it is already free in public facilities, those covered by the scheme can now avail free testing in private labs and treatment in empanelled hospitals.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a joint meeting of the 11 empowered groups on COVID-19. “PM. reviewed countrywide preparedness regarding availability of hospitals, proper isolation and quarantine facilities as well as disease surveillance, testing and critical care training,” the PMO handle tweeted.

He directed the “concerned groups and officials to ensure sufficient production, procurement and availability of all essential medical equipment such as PPEs, masks, gloves and ventilators,” it said.

Modi is also scheduled to hold a video conference with floor leaders of political parties on April 8.