Masks, hand-washing and distancing still needed in Covid fight, research shows

Social distancing, wearing face masks and hand washing should continue alongside vaccines to protect people from Covid-19, experts have suggested.

The researchers drew the conclusions after analyzing studies that assessed the effectiveness of global public health actions in reducing the transmission rates of Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, and Covid-19 mortality.

The peer-reviewed paper, published in the British Medical Journal, examined 72 studies, of which 35 assessed individual public health interventions and 37 assessed multiple public health interventions.

Of the 35 studies with individual measures, 34 were observational studies and one randomized controlled study.

They have been conducted in Asia, the United States, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, and Australia.

The researchers found that eight of the 35 studies reduced Covid-19 rates by wearing masks by 53%, while social distancing saw a 25% reduction.

Hand washing also showed a 53% reduction in Covid-19 rates, but the authors say this was not statistically significant after adjusting for the small number of studies included.

Meanwhile, a detailed analysis for other measures – such as lockdowns, closing of borders, schools and workplaces – is not possible due to differences in study design, outcome measures and quality.

They added that further evaluation of these measures is necessary so that the potential negative effects on the general population can be weighed against the positive results.

The researchers state that while Covid-19 vaccines have been shown to be safe, effective and life-saving, most do not offer 100% protection and it is not known how vaccines will prevent future transmissions in different flavors.

“Until herd immunity to Covid-19 is achieved, regardless of the already proven high vaccination rates, public health prevention strategies are likely to remain the first choice in disease prevention, especially in places with low Covid-19 vaccination consumption,” said the lead author Dr. Stella Talic from Monash University in Australia.

Concluding the research, she added, “Current evidence from quantitative analysis suggests benefits associated with hand washing, masking and physical distancing in reducing the incidence of Covid-19.

“Further research is needed to assess the effectiveness of public health interventions after adequate vaccination coverage has been achieved. It is likely that continuing to fight the Covid-19 pandemic will depend not only on high vaccination coverage and effectiveness, but on continued compliance with effective and sustainable public health measures.

The study was conducted by researchers from Monash University and Torrens University in Australia, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, China.

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