Everyone, even people with no Covid-19 symptoms, should begin wearing a mask in public, head of the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, THL, Markku Tervahauta told daily Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday.
"At the national level, the benefits clearly outweigh any disadvantages," Tervahauta said in an interview.
The use of masks to cover the nose and mouth have been a controversial issue as authorities consider the best tactics to rein in the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Finnish health officials have not recommended the use of protective masks for ordinary people, so Tervahauta's comments are a stark departure from the official position so far.
"I recommend that we use fabric masks to protect others from possible contagion. If we want to be responsible adults, we can use this method to slow the spread [of the virus]," Tervahauta declared.
There are several helpful online instructions available on how to make your own fabric face mask at home, including from, for example, the New York Times (in English) and from Finland’s home economics group, The Martha Organization (in Finnish).
High-quality masks for social and health care personnel
The THL boss stressed that his recommendation refers specifically to fabric masks. Higher-quality protective masks and surgical masks that provide protection against viral diseases should be reserved for use by social and health care professionals, he noted.
He also cautioned that his comments represent a recommendation and are not an official order. He said that the THL cannot issue a formal directive about the use of fabric masks as officials cannot guarantee the quality or functionality or home-made or purchased fabric masks.
"People can make a choice about protecting their loved ones as well as others. One would hope that masks would be widely used. If for example, just one percent [of people] use them, it would not provide protect the community," Tervahauta added.
Finland has so far complied with the World Health Organization's policy on the use of masks. According to the organisation, masks should only be used by individuals who have tested positive for Covid-19, or by persons caring for someone who may be infected by the disease.
Edited at 5:01pm Tuesday 14 April 2020 to add DIY face mask links.