Taipei, Jan. 30 (CNA) In the wake of recent reports of face mask shortages at convenience stores in Taiwan, Vice President Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist by training, said Thursday that for the average person, wearing a surgical face mask is not entirely necessary to prevent contracting the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
For people with no symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and fever, whether a mask is necessary depends on how likely they are to be exposed to the virus, which in Taiwan can be divided into three scenarios, Chen told reporters.
The first is in patients who have tested positive for the virus, Chen said, adding that as these individuals have been isolated in hospitals, they can no longer spread the virus to others.
The virus can also be passed on by those who have contracted it but not yet displayed any symptoms, Chen said.
Most commonly, these are people who have had close contact with confirmed 2019-nCoV patients, such as family members and colleagues, or travelers to Taiwan from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, he added.
Those who fall into this group are now subject to digital monitoring and subject to compulsory home confinement for 14 days, which means the chance of being infected by them is low, Chen said.
Lastly, the virus can be found in environments that have come into contact with respiratory droplets from those infected, Chen said, but it is unlikely for people to become infected if those spaces are disinfected in a timely manner.
According to how likely one is to come into contact with the virus, the general public can be divided into nine groups based on how necessary it is for them to wear masks, Chen said.
Medical professionals form the first group on Chen's list, and are the most likely to be exposed to the virus, followed by family members who live with 2019-nCoV patients, and those who have been in frequent contact with them, such as close friends and colleagues.
The fourth group are public transport workers, followed by employees of enclosed entertainment venues, people visiting hospitals, passengers on public transport, customers at enclosed entertainment venues, and lastly, those who do not fit in any of the above categories.
Chen said that the necessity ranking is intended to prevent undue panic, and to allow masks to be used more efficiently.
He stressed that for the average healthy person, masks are not entirely necessary for prevention against the 2019-nCoV, and that the possibility of contracting the virus remains relatively low.
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