The Western Cape Health Department has warned South Africans against wearing gloves and masks during the 21-day lockdown, stating these items can actually help to spread the coronavirus.
In a statement, the department said personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and gloves are scarce and should be used by the appropriate people.
“Many people feel that they can protect themselves against COVID-19 by wearing personal protection equipment such as gloves and masks as a precaution,” the department said.
“If you are not ill and not in close contact with someone who has coronavirus, you do not need to wear a mask or gloves.”
The term “personal protective equipment” refers to a wide variety of protective items, including surgical face masks, N95 respirators, aprons, face shields or visors, goggles, and gloves.
This equipment is meant to be used when treating people who have an infectious disease, cleaning, or removing waste, the department said.
Higher risk of infections
“In general, PPE such as masks and gloves are only needed if you are in direct contact with or caring for a person who is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, at home or in a health facility,” the department said.
“Scientific evidence proves that by wearing a mask, if it is not needed, you may put yourself at higher risk because you fiddle with the mask and then transfer germs from your hands to your face.”
It added that wearing a mask and gloves when going to the supermarket or pharmacy to buy essentials during the lockdown period is unnecessary and will not protect you from the coronavirus.
Wearing this equipment in the belief that it will protect you when you are in public may result in the infection actually spreading faster, the department warned.
“The Health Department has developed clear guidelines for the general public. It advises the public to practice good hand hygiene, not touch your face, and to keep a distance of 1.5 metres from other people when you have to leave your home for essential items or medical care,” the department added.
“To reiterate, for the general public no PPE is needed.”
Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced on 29 March that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in South Africa had risen to 1,280.
Additionally, Mkhize said that South Africa has suffered the second death of a patient who tested positive for the virus.
The deceased was a 74-year-old man who had been in ICU in a private hospital in Ladysmith. He had travelled to the Kruger National Park with his family and returned with flu-like symptoms.
“It has been reported to us that the deceased patient had an underlying skin cancer condition (melanoma), which had already complicated,” said Mkhize.
“The deceased’s family, 14 health workers, including 3 specialist doctors who were in contact with him, are now in quarantine and being monitored.”