Face mask policy has been a moving target since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With some countries and localities facing shortages, and the World Health Organization itself initially suggesting that masks were not effective in containing the spread of the virus, governments were reluctant to implement rules to force people to wear face coverings.

But since, attitudes have evolved. Masks4All, a group of researchers and scientists, found that only around 10 countries recommended wearing masks in mid-March, whereas as of mid-May, around 100 countries require or recommend them.

More recent studies have now shown that the virus could spread by particles suspended in the air and that masks, if worn properly, could serve as a barrier against droplets expelled into the air. If some experts are concerned that masks might give a false sense of security, there is a least a consensus that they can reduce the risk of an infected person passing on the virus.

So now, governments see new rules about masks as one possible way to avoid a second wave of infections without reimposing strict lockdowns that could further damage their economies.

France: The French government first advised people to wear masks only if they were sick or were health workers, before encouraging all citizens to wear protective equipment in public. Now with all restrictions and lockdown measures lifted, Prime Minister Jean Castex has announced that it would be compulsory to wear masks in all enclosed public spaces beginning next week, Franceinfo reports.

  • This comes as concern grows amongst experts who warn that people are "abandoning" barrier gestures, including a concert in the southern city of Nice that drew some 5,000 people packed closely together and almost all without masks.

  • So far masks were only compulsory in public transport, while shops and businesses had the right to require their customers to wear such protective equipment.

Hong Kong: The island has recently imposed its strictest social distancing restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic, following a surge in new coronavirus cases.

  • The rules include mandatory face masks for people using public transport — a first in Hong Kong which had not yet imposed the wearing of masks for its citizens. So far the city had only recommended using such protective equipment in crowded places.

  • Failing to comply with this rule may attract a fine of HK$5,000 ($645) and entry may be refused, Hong Kong Free Press reports.

In Hong Kong on July 14 — Photo: Chan Long Hei/SOPA/ZUMA

Brazil: As cases continue to soar in Brazil, the second-worst hit country in the world with more than 1.9 million infections, the Chamber of Deputies approved a new law to make the use of masks obligatory in public. Several states already made face coverings mandatory, but this was the first law on a national level.

  • However, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro vetoed their use in shops, schools and churches as well as the enforcement of fines for those violating the rules. He also vetoed articles requiring public authorities to distribute masks to "economically vulnerable people."The law is now in the hands of the Congress, which will decide whether to maintain or reverse these vetoes.

  • Jair Bolsonaro, who has been downplaying the severity of the pandemic since it started and refused to wear a mask in public, was seen wearing one when he announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus. But it doesn't mean that the political leader has come round: he allegedly used homophobic language to mock the use of face masks, Folha de São Paulo reports, and took off his mask in a televised interview, exposing journalists who filed a criminal complaint to the Supreme Court.

Spain: In Andalusia, a ruling was approved this week making masks mandatory in all public spaces. Failing to abide will bring fines.

  • The decision comes as local outbreaks of COVID-19 have been registered in the last few weeks.

  • Similar measures have already been taken by other regional governments in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Extremadura, reports El Pais.

The United States: President Donald Trump finally reversed his position this month, urging Americans to wear masks although he himself had refused to do so before and even mocked Joe Biden who had worn one during a ceremony. The president was seen last week wearing a mask for the first time in public. So far there has been no national mask mandate issued, but states have taken the matter in their own hands.

  • Alabama's governor announced this week that people will have to wear masks when leaving the house. According to the Washington Post, nearly half of all states are now requiring their citizens to wear the protective equipment.

  • The country's largest retailer Walmart Inc. has just issued the same rule for its customers in its 5,000 stores across the country beginning next week. Other national chains have made similar moves, as cases continue to climb us in the U.S. with more than 3.3 million infections.


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