A study conducted by the department of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong has claimed that wearing of face masks can significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19 from an infected person to others by 75 percent.
The study is however, yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a journal.
To arrive at their findings, the researchers used two groups of hamsters — small rodents that are commonly kept as house pets — put in cages.
While the hamsters in the first group were infected with COVID-19, the other ones were left in healthy condition.
The researchers consequently placed a fan between the cages to allow for the transmission of respiratory droplets from the infected hamsters’ cage to the other.
Findings revealed that when there was no face mask coverings on the cages, two-thirds of the healthy hamsters were infected with the novel disease.
Further findings also showed that when mask barriers were placed only on cages with the infected hamsters, the transmission rate dropped by 75 per cent.
The researchers also witnessed a significant drop in number of the healthy hamsters — over 15 percent got sick when masks were used.
The study also found that the hamsters that were infected even with the mask barrier had less of the virus in their bodies when compared to those infected without the masks.
Yuen Kwok-yung, the lead researcher, said the study was an indication that wearing masks could play a significant role in containing the spread of killer virus.
“The findings implied to the world and the public is that the effectiveness of mask-wearing against the coronavirus pandemic is huge,” Yuen, who helped discover the SARS virus in 2003, was quoted as saying during a press conference.
“In our hamster experiment, it shows very clearly that if infected hamsters or humans -especially asymptomatic or symptomatic ones – put on masks, they actually protect other people.
“That’s the strongest result we showed here. Transmission can be reduced by 50 percent when surgical masks are used, especially when masks are worn by infected individuals.
“Up to this stage, we do not have a safe and effective vaccine. What remains practical is still either social-distancing measures or wearing masks”.
The study further stretches the debate on whether or not use of masks can combat spread of COVID-19.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the use of face masks could reduce the spread of the disease in places where social distancing is difficult to maintain.
The World Health Organization (WHO), however, warned that while face masks may help curb the spread of COVID-19, they were insufficient on their own.