MANILA - Washing hands frequently is a more effective way to avoid contracting the new coronavirus than using a face mask, a health official said Tuesday.
"Factually, it shows that non-symptomatic people using masks, it will give them a false sense of confidence and put them at more risk because they tend to wash hands less," World Health Organization (WHO) Philippines Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said during a Senate hearing.
"Just because you wear a mask, you should not neglect keeping your hands clean. Because if you touch the mask and you have droplets on the outer surface of the mask that somebody else cough on, you could still get infected. What's actually more important is hand hygiene," he added.
Face masks, Abeyasinghe reiterated, should be used by people who are exhibiting respiratory symptoms. It should be reserved for high-risk individuals such as health workers and those who are exposed to crowds.
"We don’t see a benefit of masks to be used by the general public... This is important now if we have to prevent secondary transmission, especially from PUIs [patients under investigation] and outpatient departments of hospitals," he said.
Evidence indicates that the 2019-Novel Coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV ARD) is transmitted between humans through close contact and mostly by people with symptoms.
"The evidence today is that more than 90 percent of the transmission is attributed to symptomatic people," Abeyasinghe said.
To arrest the spread of the virus, he said those with respiratory symptoms must practice proper cough etiquette and hand hygiene.
"Because if you are coughing and your droplets contain this coronavirus, the virus would be present on utensils, on home items, where an infected person has cough," Abeyasinghe said, adding pathogens could survive on surfaces for between 8 to 10 hours.
"Make sure that you make an effort to clean surfaces that are handled by those people. This is a infection prevention measure," he added.
The 2019-nCoV ARD, which originated from a market that sells illegal wildlife in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has killed at least 425 people and infected nearly 20,000 others in China.
The Philippines is also monitoring 105 patients suspected of carrying the strain.
Two Chinese nationals, who had come together to the Philippines from Wuhan, were the first confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the country. One of them, a 44-year-old man, died on Saturday.