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Should we use masks to protect against Covid-19 and where do migrant workers go next

In episode 431 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta discuses new evidence on face masks, the efficiency of BCG vaccine and continuing troubles of migrant workers in India.

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New Delhi: Authorities in India, the US and other western countries have said citizens don’t need masks, and only doctors, nurses, medical personnel are the ones who need it. Now, a lot of new data is suddenly popping up that is telling you that wearing a mask is actually a good idea, especially the evidence coming out of Czech Republic.

An article in The New York Times comments on Czech Republic’s success in handling Covid-19 and the effectiveness of masks. The population of the Czech Republic is approximately 1.1 crore, similar to the population of the Italian province Lombardy, which at last count had nearly 40,000 coronavirus cases. Czech Republic, on the other hand, has had only 2,669 cases till now and the number has flattened.

The country mandated that everyone leaving their house must wear a mask. Wearing a mask may not only protect you but will also protect others from you in case you are infected by the coronavirus and are asymptomatic. Even if masks don’t provide complete protection, they can reduce the overall re-infection rate. Researchers found that during the SARS outbreak in 2003, hand washing provided 55 per cent protection while masks provided 68 per cent protection.     

Head of the Chinese Centre of Disease and Prevention George Gao also recommends wearing a mask to curb the spread of the infection. Additionally, any mask will help avoid the infection to a large extent, even if you tie a bandanna over your mouth.

Also read: Italy on the verge of losing grip in south as fears of looting & riots amid lockdown grow

BCG vaccine 

In other news, 108 volunteers in Wuhan have taken the first dosage of an experimental vaccine for the coronavirus. This is good news, but the vaccine will still take a lot of time to reach the masses. A vaccine that may be effective in mitigating the risks of Covid-19 is Bacillus Calmette–Guérin or BCG. It was found that a revaccination of BCG reduces the chances of respiratory infection by 60-80 per cent. Japanese researchers have put out a map of the world in terms of fatalities per million from Covid-19, and whether that country has BCG vaccine as part of its universal vaccine program or not. Just looking at that, it looks like there is a relationship since most western countries do not have BCG vaccines. However, again, this is mostly anecdotal and more research is taking place in the field.

Migrant workers 

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a nationwide lockdown left many migrant workers stranded. Visuals have been appearing showing many migrants walking to their villages from cities where they work. The coordination between the states and the central government is essential for giving relief to these people. The central government has asked the migrant workers to stay where they are, but there hasn’t been any sign of reassurance from the Modi government. On the other hand, some chief ministers have spoken strongly on the issue. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was among the first to reassure migrants. On the other hand, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has been totally silent on the issue, even though Bihar is the largest exporter of labourers per capita. 

Also read: Modi govt’s Covid-19 package not enough, people need food security: Sachin Pilot


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