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Italian authorities are making the use of face masks mandatory on public transport and in stores as they gradually loosen lockdown measures, starting next Monday.
Face masks should be worn on the street in cases when it is hard to maintain a safe
distance from others, ISS public health institute director Silvio Brusaferro said.
But masks “must not give a false sense of security,” Brusaferro told reporters.
“It is an additional element, but personal hygiene and distancing are more important.”
Italy and other countries are now debating whether people should wear masks outdoors at all times – even while not in a confined space.
Italy's official death toll from the virus rose on Monday by 333 to 26,977 – the highest in Europe and second behind the United States.
What is the Italian government's advice on face masks?
The national government recommends following World Health Organisation guidelines on masks: only wear one if you know or suspect you have Covid-19, or are caring for someone who does.
People with health conditions that make them vulnerable to infection, such as HIV patients or people undergoing chemotherapy, are also advised to wear masks.
“Use of the face mask can help to limit the spread of the virus, but should be combined with other respiratory and hand hygiene measures,” the Ministry of Health's official advice states.
“In fact, it is possible that the use of face masks may even increase the risk of infection due to a false sense of security and increased contact between hands, mouth and eyes.”
The Italian government has warned against wearing masks unnecessarily or putting on several at once, stating that: “The rational use of medical masks is important to avoid unnecessary wastage of precious resources.”
What do other countries think?
The WHO acknowledges that there is an “ongoing debate” about wearing face masks. Many experts argue that wearing masks as a precaution can help prevent the coronavirus spreading before people realise they're ill.
Americans are now being encouraged to wear a face mask anytime they go outside, while French and German public health bodies say wearing a mask even if you don't have symptoms could reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
In practice, most police officers, shop assistants, delivery people and other key workers in contact with the public in Italy wear face masks while they're on duty.
Aren't face masks already compulsory in parts of Italy?
Yes: people in Lombardy, the region at the epicentre of Italy's coronavirus pandemic, must now cover their face in public as part of the latest regional quarantine measures.
A decree signed on April 4 stated that anyone leaving their own home must wear a face mask or, if they do not have one, cover their nose and mouth with a scarf.
As part of the same decree, all shops must also hand out disposable gloves and hand sanitizer to customers.
Some 300,000 masks will be distributed free by pharmacies, the regional government said, with priority given to people in high-risk categories.
Tuscany is alos making face masks compulsory. Regional president Enrico Rossi, who said that 10 million masks are being distributed throughout the region for free – nearly three for every resident.
The rule will go into effect once each municipality confirms that it has delivered the masks to people's homes, Rossi announced on April 5.
And as of April 13 face masks are also mandatory in Veneto, along with gloves or hand sanitizer.
The region had previously required them in supermarkets and on public transport, but has now made them compulsory for any outings in public.
Are there any other rules about wearing face masks in Italy?
Several other regions require people to wear face masks in certain public places.
In Friuli Venezia Giulia and Valle d'Aosta, it is mandatory for both staff and customers to wear face masks (or cover nose and mouth with a scarf) in supermarkets and other shops.
The province of Alto Adige (South Tyrol) has urged people to cover their face anytime they come into contact with others, calling it a “civic duty”. All shop staff must wear masks, which employers can request for free from the regional health authorities.
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
Authorities in Liguria say they're working to distribute free face masks to residents, who have struggled to find supplies. Masks could be required once everyone has one, said regional president Giovanni Toti.
Meanwhile some Italian supermarket chains, including A&O, have been telling customers not to enter without a mask.
How should I put on and take off a face mask?
The Italian Ministry of Health recommends the following steps:
- Before putting on the mask, wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Cover your mouth and nose with the mask ensuring that it is intact and it fits snugly to your face.
- Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, wash your hands.
- When the mask becomes damp, replace it with a new one and do not reuse it, since disposable masks should be used once only.
- Remove the mask by handling the elastic band only, without touching the front of the mask; discard immediately in a closed bin and wash your hands.