Wearing masks is the most effective measure to slow the spread of Covid-19, a global study has found.
Face coverings were shown to reduce the number of cases of coronavirus by 53 per cent, with social distancing and handwashing also important tools in the fight against the virus.
Researchers said the results showed the importance of continued precautions such as mask-wearing, social distancing and handwashing, alongside vaccination programmes, in controlling the spread of the virus.
“This systematic review and meta analysis suggests that several personal protective and social measures, including handwashing, mask-wearing and physical distancing are associated with reductions in the incidence of Covid-19,” the researchers wrote in the British Medical Journal.
Mask rules central to UAE's Covid-19 strategy
The UAE has required the public to wear masks outside of their homes since April 2020.
While case numbers have dropped significantly in recent months – remaining below 100 each day since October 1 – authorities stressed it remained essential that people continued to wear masks and follow other safety measures to continue the country's recovery from the pandemic.
"Wearing masks, physical distancing, sanitising the hands and the surfaces – all of these measures have become the new lifestyle that we should be used to in the coming period," said Dr Noura Al Ghaithi, official spokeswoman of the UAE Health Sector, at a Covid-19 briefing last month.
"The importance of abiding by these measures has become a necessity, especially with the spread of the mutations that might constitute a risk for some."
The UAE in September relaxed some rules concerning the use of face masks.
Previously, members of the public were required to wear masks almost everywhere outside their homes. There are exceptions, such as children under the age of 6 and others.
The rule affected everywhere except Dubai, which sets its own coronavirus regulations and had already previously eased restrictions on the mandatory use of masks.
As of late September, masks were no longer required when exercising outside; at the beach or by the pool; while in a car with people from the same household; while alone in an indoor place; in a barber shop or salon and while undergoing diagnosis and treatment at medical centres. Those changes applied to all emirates except for Dubai, which has its own crisis committee.
Study backs up prevailing scientific opinion
The news will come as no surprise to some experts, who have stressed for many months the virus that causes Covid-19 is airborne and masks are required to slow its spread.
A group of more than 200 aerosol biologists and other experts signed a letter addressed to the World Health Organisation in July last year calling for greater recognition of the role of aerosol transmission in the outbreak.
In May this year, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to confirm the virus is airborne and can spread through tiny particles that can linger in the air for hours.
And in July the WHO said the virus that causes Covid-19 may be transmitted through the air.
Comprehensive research compiled
The meta analysis of the effectiveness of masks included results from eight studies conducted around the world.
“Six studies with a total of 2,627 people with Covid-19 and 389,228 participants were included in the analysis examining the effect of mask-wearing on incidence of Covid-19,” researchers said.
“Overall pooled analysis showed a 53 per cent reduction in Covid-19 incidence.”
Physical distancing was associated with a 25 per cent reduction in the incidence of Covid. Handwashing led to a 53 per cent reduction, but the result was said to not be statistically significant, due to the small amount of studies conducted into the subject.
Analysis of other measures, such as quarantine and isolation, lockdowns and closures of schools and offices was not possible due to differences in the way the studies were conducted, said the researchers.