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“Forget facemasks,” says top airline doctor. Frequent handwashing is key to fighting Covid-19

The Independent logo The Independent 17/2/2020 Hana O
a man standing next to a car © The Independent Singapore

Singapore – A top airline doctor announced that frequent washing of hands is the best way to avoid Covid-19 and to “forget facemasks and rubber gloves.”

There is an ongoing debate on whether or not one should wear face masks only when ill. However, according to physician and medical adviser to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), David Powell, face masks and gloves actually help in spreading the virus rather than eliminating them.

“The virus can’t survive long on seats or armrests, so physical contact with another person carries the greatest risk of infection on a flight,” said Dr Powell, as reported byBloomberg.

Dr Powell confirmed that chances of acquiring the virus on an aircraft are low. This is due to the different air supply within a plane compared to the cinema theatre or other establishments. The former has a combination of fresh and recirculated air that passes through hospital-grade filters while the latter does not have the same ventilation system.

“So the risk, if there is one, does not come from the supplied air,” said the doctor. “It comes from other people.”

A necessary safety precaution to remember when on a plane is proper hand hygiene. “The hands are the way that these viruses most efficiently spread,” said Dr Powell. Frequent hand washing and limiting hand to face contact are sure ways to avoid the spread of Covid-19.

With that said, Dr Powell reminded everyone that masks and gloves are better at promoting the growth of viruses and bacteria than eliminating them. “Masks are useful for those who are unwell to protect other people from them,” said the doctor. “But wearing a mask all the time will be ineffective because it will allow viruses to be transmitted around it, through it and worse still if it becomes moist it will encourage the growth of viruses and bacteria.” The same applies to rubber gloves because they transmit micro-organisms instead of killing the harmful ones.

In response to different countries imposing travel bans, Dr Powell shared that these measures could make things worse instead of containing the virus. “During that outbreak (Ebola), west Africa struggled, the WHO couldn’t get their people in, they couldn’t get biological samples out, and the economic impact of being shut off made things worse.”

He added that general travel bans also encourage people to travel in secret, which heightens the risk of virus proliferation.

The IATA represents about 290 airlines and accounts for more than 80 per cent of the world’s air traffic.

Meanwhile, Facebook power-user and CEO of Temasek Holdings, Ho Ching shared the interview with Dr Powell and reiterated the importance of hand hygiene. “Sure, it’s natural to be worried and feel more comforted to wear a mask. Even so, we must not neglect hand hygiene,” she said. “We must clean our hands before putting on our masks, and we must clean our hands after removing and disposing of our masks. And must remember not to rub our eyes without cleaning our hands, mask or no mask,” added Ms Ho.

She also mentioned that the production of surgical masks and other basic and essential medical supplies would take one to three months to catch up to the shortage and meet demand levels. In the meantime, “Let’s not waste our surgical masks through unnecessary use,” advised Ms Ho.

Even on flights, hand hygiene is #1 precaution to avoid infections, rather than masks or gloves …Do you know that…

Posted by HO Ching on Sunday, February 16, 2020

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