Lisbon, April 13th 2020 (Lusa) – The Directorate-General for Health today endorsed the use of masks by those who remain in enclosed, indoor spaces with several people, as an additional protection measure alongside social distancing and hand hygiene.

The conditions for the use of the various types of masks were published in a paper today, in which the Directorate-General for Health (DGS) reviewed guidelines issued previously.

People over 65, with chronic diseases and immunosuppressive conditions, should wear surgical masks whenever they leave home, according to guidance from the DGS.

In addition to all health professionals, people with respiratory symptoms or those who enter health institutions should also wear these masks.

Invoking the Principle of Public Health Precaution, DGS today affirms that “the use of masks by everyone who is in enclosed, indoor spaces with multiple other people should be considered as an additional protection measure in addition to social distancing and hand hygiene ”.

It also reiterates that the effectiveness of the widespread use of masks by the community in preventing infection by the new coronavirus “has not been proven”. However, he admits that, in the face of the emergence of a new disease, which we are learning more about every day, it is agreed, without extensive scientific evidence, that the wearing of masks can help to prevent the spread of the virus, along with other measures already in place.

As the Minister of Health, Marta Temido, said at today’s press conference, the use of surgical masks and other personal protective equipment is recommended for some professional groups: security and military forces, firefighters, distributors of essential goods to the home, workers in social solidarity institutions, homes and integrated care network, funeral directors and professionals who provide services to the public, where social distance is not guaranteed.

DGS stresses that the sensible use of masks by the population should not result in the neglecting of the other fundamental measures already in place, such as social distancing and hand hygiene.

According to DGS, the use of masks by the population is “an act of altruism”, since those who use it not only protect themselves but also contribute to the protection of others.

It also recognizes that the use of masks by the population should not “affect the supply of masks to patients and health professionals”, as these are the priority groups for the use of surgical masks.

“According to ECDC, there is no direct scientific evidence that would allow a recommendation for or against the use of non-surgical or community masks by the population,” reads the document signed by the Director-General of health, Graça Freitas.

The health minister said today that non-surgical masks can be used by the population in enclosed spaces and with a high number of people, such as supermarkets and public transport.

“In accordance with the basic principle of public health protection and in view of the absence of adverse effects associated with the use of a mask, its use can be considered by anyone in enclosed indoor spaces where there are a high number of people,” said Marta Temido, giving as an example supermarkets, pharmacies, shops or commercial establishments and public transport.

At the daily press conference held at the Directorate-General for Health (DGS), the minister stressed that the use of masks in the community constitutes “an additional and supplementary measure” to those that already exist, such as social distancing and hand washing.

The minister had advised that today a rule would be published by the DGS that complies with European rules on the use of non-surgical masks, also known as “social or community masks”.

Marta Temido stressed that the issue of masks is “completely aligned” with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which on April 8th presented a set of arguments on the use of this equipment.

The minister stressed that the social masks, which can be made of cotton or other textile fabric, will be suggested to the population when the country returns to normality.

He stated that when life is able to be more ‘normal’ i.e. outside of a state of emergency, in situations which call for the confinement and restriction during essential activities, and in which people are in enclosed spaces, the use of the such social masks should be considered.

Speaking at the daily press conference to provide updated information on the Covid-19 pandemic, Marta Temido explained that there are three types of masks: FFP respirators for health professionals (models 2 and 3), surgical masks that prevent the spread of infections and non-surgical or social masks.

According to the minister, surgical masks should be worn by people with symptoms of Covid-19 and by the most vulnerable, as well as professionals from more exposed groups such as firefighters, police and funeral service workers and stores.

Marta Temido stated that the non-surgical masks are not certified devices, do not comply with health standards and can be made of different materials, such as cotton or textile.