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Finnish researchers call for widespread mask use in open letter

Last week, a government-appointed working group said that mask use has little or no effect on reducing spread of infections.

Nainen hengityssuojain kasvoillaan.
A science panel set up by the government recommended the use of face masks in public places and on public transport to combat coronavirus infections. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

In an open letter published (in Finnish) on Wednesday, a working group of 59 Finnish researchers appealed to the country’s population to use masks in order to slow down the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

This comes a week after a report presented by a government-appointed working group observed that the widespread use of face masks has little or no effect on reducing the spread of upper respiratory infections.

On Monday, a Helsinki University academic disputed the report and said it omitted the latest research by virologists on the subject.

In the open letter, the researchers argued that the use of masks reduces the transmission of the virus by both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers. Thus, reducing the likelihood of mask users infecting others.

"Current research strongly suggests that the use of masks is beneficial and that masks are one of the most useful and cost-effective actions in managing the COVID-19 epidemic," the working group of researchers called "Eroon Koronasta" ('Get rid of Corona' in English) wrote on its website.

According to the authors, the current research data show that people are at their most contagious in the early stages of infection, with little or no symptoms.

The letter was signed by Bengt Holmström, Nobel Laureate in Economics, Hanna Ollila, a researcher in genetics and epidemiology at the Universities of Helsinki and Stanford, and Martin Scheinin, Professor of International Law, among others.

Mask primarily protects others

In addition to surgical masks, fabric masks are also useful in curbing the spread of disease-causing droplets, according to the researchers.

"In situations where the use of masks is mandatory or otherwise common, it has been shown to protect against community transmission," the researchers wrote.

The use of masks would be most effective when the majority of people in public spaces wear a mask, according to the researchers. The letter referenced a study published by the Technical Research Centre of Finland VTT which stated that the most important effect of fabric masks is to protect others from infection.

The greater the number of people wearing masks in a clean and effective manner along with following other restrictive measures, the more effective the epidemic slowdown could be, the researchers concluded.

A science panel set up by the government on Tuesday also recommended the use of face masks in public places and on public transport to combat coronavirus infections.

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