From Australia To Germany: These Are The Most Permissive Countries
Health

From Australia to Germany: these are the most permissive countries with the use of the mask

Countries like France and Germany are already relaxing the requirements to wear a mask despite having a higher incidence than Spain.

Crowds without masks in the streets of London last March.  AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

One of the images of the year was that of the young Spanish tennis player Carlos Alcaraz taking to the streets of Melbourne after two weeks of hotel quarantine, removing his mask and immersing himself enthusiastically in the hustle and bustle of the Australian night. If freedom is anything, it must look a lot like that.

In Australia, masks have not been mandatory for a long time because the virus barely circulates in the country. Its ‘Covid zero’ policy has made only three coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded since October 29, 2020. In fact, in Australia, there is hardly any need for vaccinations. Its border control and immediate withdrawal at the slightest threat of regrowth have been enough.

The rest of the world has had different approaches, how could it be otherwise. From those who were already used to face masks – practically all of Southeast Asia – even those who considered it something grotesque -a good part of the United States and some areas of Europe and Latin America-.

Throughout the West, the mask has been an element of defense, but it has not been mandatory everywhere: in the United Kingdom, for example, it was no more than a recommendation for interior spaces. Abroad, it was completely optional, and right now it is reserved practically exclusively for public transport and in sanitary facilities..

The same can be said of United States, where each state has made a tunic of its cape here and it is curious to what extent something so aseptic has become a matter of political struggle. Democratic states were the first to enact the obligation to wear masks in public places while Republicans have been very reluctant to take similar measures.

In fact, former President Donald Trump waited until July 12 to appear in public for the first time wearing a mask and was always dismissive of its usefulness.

Blue: mandatory mask;  green: indoors only;  purple: only in some sectors;  gray: unregulated.

Blue: mandatory mask; green: indoors only; purple: only in some sectors; gray: unregulated.

In fact, the “mandatory mask” policy, at least in public places, has been something very central European, and as the mass vaccination campaign advances by leaps and bounds, countries are preparing to return to facial normality.

For this, several conditions must be met: a high percentage of vaccinated and a low incidence, always below the high risk threshold (150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants). Spain is already practically there, but other countries such as Germany or Italy are close to 200 while France directly exceeds 300.

And yet, France and Germany have gone ahead of their Mediterranean neighbors when it comes to softening their position regarding the use of masks: in the country presided over by Angela Merkel, it was already decided in January that masks only made sense in closed places.

And also that, for them to be really effective, they had to be FFP2, the same ones that Fernando Simón described in Spain as “selfish” last summer without distinguishing between those that have a valve – a minority that does not protect the rest from contagion so much – from those that do not – the vast majority.

In France, the mask has always been mandatory indoors, but not outdoors, where it has depended on local authorities. Looking ahead to this summer the French health minister hopes to be able to lift virtually all restrictions, although he warns: “It will depend on the rate of vaccination and the transmission of the virus. As soon as possible, it will be announced, it won’t take another day.”

So that, Spain and Italy remain practically exceptions when it comes to forcing their citizens to wear a mask in open spaces, even on deserted beaches or during picnics. The mask protects from contagion but for this there must be a risk of contracting the virus, that is, at least there must be someone else nearby.

The golden rule at the beginning of the pandemic was “it will have to be worn when the safety distance of two meters is not possible”. It is true that the doubts about transmission by aerosols, which are still there, make that rule not so valid. Infections can occur even ten meters away or when the infected person has just left a space. Now, almost all the studies on the matter, speak of closed enclosures.

Italy and Spain lead the use of the mask outdoors in Europe.

Italy and Spain lead the use of the mask outdoors in Europe.
YouGov

Being infected by aerosols in an open space is an almost discardable hypothesis. Yes, the use of a mask could be recommended when many people gather in a place because there the contagion can be direct by contact. It is common sense that if I am coughing or have symptoms, I wear a mask. It’s also not a good idea to yell in anyone’s face.

In the same way, liberalizing the use of the mask does not imply that it is mandatory not to use it. If someone still has doubts about it and wants to protect themselves, they will be free to do so. Another thing is that this fear should be extended to the rest of the population.

At what point could Spain at least consider withdrawing the obligation to wear a mask outdoors, as Fernando Simón himself announced at a press conference last Monday? From the outset, I already say, seeing that in France and Germany they are already more open than us on this issue, nothing would happen either to immediately withdraw the obligation in open public spaces where there is no direct contact with anyone.

In fact, it is likely that the use of a mask even in street conversations with non-cohabitants or on terraces should remain in the field of recommendation. Otherwise, moreover, it would be uncontrollable. Can that trigger cases if done wrong? Everything that is done wrong is a risk in the midst of a pandemic, but we cannot remain blocked before any new step for fear of it being a false step.

Of course, we will have to be especially attentive, but if it is explained well enough when and where the use of these masks is recommended -indoors, it would still be advisable to require them- there should be no noticeable difference regarding the current situation.

New cases per million population in Israel.

New cases per million population in Israel.
Our World in Data

If the criterion has to do directly with vaccination and transmission, well, let’s look at Israel. the Hebrew country, one of the fastest to vaccinate but also suffered one of the worst waves in winter, forcing a new confinement of a good part of its population, waited until April 20 of this year to lift the ban on open places.

What was your situation at that time? A reproduction rate between 0.7 and 0.8 (in Spain it is around 0.85, although there are regions with more problems), 56.98% of the population immunized (two doses) and 200 cases per day out of a population of just over nine million.

As we can see, Spain is only close to one of the three requirements, but there is still time for summer and the other indicators are close to the ideal: according to the latest data published by the Ministry of Health, 15.7% of the population has already received the full regimen.

If we take into account that in the last week we have seen a 2% increase in the total number of immunized people and that millions of doses from Pfizer are expected to arrive, it is likely that this growth will skyrocket in the coming weeks, being able to reach that 55-56% even before the month of August. However, the data for the last two days is slightly lower than expected, so we will have to be careful when making exact projections.

Regarding the cases detected, This Tuesday, 3,988 new infections were reported, the lowest figure since August 12. On Wednesday, the figure rose to 6,080, but this is normal on Wednesday, leaving the cumulative incidence at 144.56 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. If we had to follow the Israeli example to the letter, we would have to wait to drop to 800 new daily infections.

Perhaps it is a very optimistic criterion. Actually, 35-40% of those immunized, plus the 10-15% who are likely to still have antibodies for having previously passed the disease, and an incidence below 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants would justify some kind of movement regarding the masks.

Yes, it is important, I insist, an exhaustive work of pedagogy in terms of internal enclosures. The masks will have to continue to be worn if we understand that we can enter a closed place with more people. What is not necessary is to wear them constantly in the middle of the Spanish summer.

It will also be necessary to see there is no small rebound in June as a result of the end of the state of alarm, but although it is still an option that is not yet ruled out, it seems less and less likely. Soon, Madrid, Barcelona, ​​Bilbao or Seville will be like Melbourne or Berlin and, soon, the illusion of normality, of freedom, will fill our eyes with tears.