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Report: Little or no benefit to widespread mask use

The ministry said it would use the report to draw up recommendations.

Kuvassa on hengityssuojainta käyttävä nainen Helsingistä.
Finland's official position has been that masks do not need to be used in public. Image: Vesa Moilanen / Lehtikuva

Research has shown that widespread use of face masks have little or no effect on reducing the spread of upper respiratory infections, according to a report presented a government-appointed working group led by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH) on Friday.

"There is no scientific evidence for its use," Emerita Professor Marjukka Mäkelä said at a press briefing to unveil the report.

The report was commissioned by the government to determine if there were grounds to recommend the widespread use of masks to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus. It looked at commercial mouth and nose coverings for use by members of the public as well as home-made masks.

The writers of the report reviewed scientific research on the use of protective masks and also examined mask practices and guidelines in several other countries.

Research circumstances different

The public health officials said that five of eight systematic reviews found no evidence that the use of masks would provide any benefit in controlling sources of infection or protecting healthy persons from exposure to respiratory infections. Three reviews were cautiously positive in this regard.

According to Mäkelä, it was difficult to apply the research findings to the Covid-19 epidemic in Finland because public mask usage would be taking place in circumstances that are very different from the ones in which the random studies were conducted.

The ministry will present a separate proposal on the matter in the near future, officials said.

"Now that we have the report, we will begin to consider what our proposal is," MSAH permanent secretary Kirsi Varhila said.

She added that businesses have the option of mandating mask use, but it would require them to offer masks to their customers.

No consistent practices or arguments

During the coronavirus pandemic, many countries have decided to recommend the use of protective masks in public, however. Ministry director Pasi Pohjola said that government decisions have also contradicted advice from health officials.

The position of the World Health Organisation, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is that the primary measures for combatting the spread of infection is reducing physical contact (maintaining a minimum distance of one or two metres), and avoiding unnecessary time spent in public places, washing hands as advised as well as practicing good coughing and sneezing hygiene.

Back in April THL head Markku Tervahauta recommended the use of masks in public, however the ministry's Varhila later contradicted his advice.

The full report is available on the ministry website (in Finnish).

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