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NZ not following USA's lead on face masks yet, Ministry of Health says - 'We're not in that position'

The Ministry of Health says it is waiting on the World Health Organization to release information on how effective the use of face masks are before they tell Kiwis to wear them.

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Dr Ashley Bloomfield says NZ acted much faster to the coronavirus pandemic, which is why face masks may not be effective. Source: 1 NEWS

This comes after US officials advised Americans to wear masks for their own safety earlier today.

The White House said the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that Americans cover their faces when leaving the home, especially around other people.

In this afternoon's press conference with the Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, he said at this stage of New Zealand's outbreak there is no need for Kiwis to wear them.

"Recall that the USA is in a very different situation from what New Zealand is at the moment," Dr Bloomfield said.

"They have clearly widespread infections and widespread community transmission. They have a much lower rate of access to testing so that's partly why, I think, they've gone to the advice of using face covering because they have much wider infections across the community.

"We're not in that position. We acted much faster than America with much more stringent controls and much more strict isolation and home isolation, so we didn't get into that position."

Rather than follow the US's lead, Dr Caroline McElnay, Director of Public Health, said New Zealand would wait for the WHO to give advice on face masks before advising Kiwis to wear them.

"The best advice at the moment is that basic hygiene measures such as frequent hand washing, physical distancing and sneeze and cough etiquette remain the mainstay of our defence against Covid-19."

Dr McElnay added there are ways in which wearing a mask can be helpful but there are also ways in which it could be harmful.

"We know that in some countries it is common practice when people who are unwell wear a mask when they go out - that's a good practice that protects other people.

"But there is also some evidence that wearing a mask can also do harm such as when it leads to people touching their face more often because of the discomfort with wearing a mask and that can actually increase the risk of contamination to your hand and give you a false sense of security."

The WHO has said in recent days that face masks can help protect against coranavirus, but Dr McElnay said they are doing further research on the matter before giving further advice.