France says handmade cloth masks less effective against new COVID variant

Humidity can also bolster the immune system by producing special proteins called interferons that fight against viruses. Photo iStock

Faced with the new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus, France’s High Council of Public Health (HCSP) has implicitly advised against certain fabric masks that don’t properly filter the virus that causes Covid-19. However, any moves against using fabric masks will be difficult to implement.

The HCSP said handmade cloth masks filtered only around 70 percent of particles, and recommended the government promote reusable category 1 fabric masks, which filter more than 90 percent, as well as surgical masks, considered to be even more effective.

“With the arrival in Europe of certain new variants of Covid-19, the question presents itself as to what category of mask should be offered to the general population,” declared Didier Lepelletier, an official from the HCSP, earlier this week on BFMTV.

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The new recommendations were drawn up last weekend at the request of the Ministry of Health, but it remains unclear whether the ministry will implement them and the exact content of the recommendations remains unknown.

Franck Chauvin, president of the HCSP, said: “I cannot tell you when our position will be made public,” indicating only that it was “among the measures being taken with regard to the new variants”.

Fabric masks were introduced at the end of March as a consumer alternative to medical masks (surgical or FFP2 masks) which were in extremely short supply. The government then did an about turn after having initially insisted that that masks were useless for the general population.

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An official note of 29 March 2020 defines several categories of industrial fabric masks.

Category 1 (or UNS1, for ‘non-sanitary use 1’) filters 90 percent of particles. Category 2 (UNS2) filters approximately 70 percent of particles, according to standards developed by the standards and certification group Afnor.

When asked on Tuesday for the HCSP’s current position on the matter, Minister of Health, Olivier Véran replied: “All masks that filter more than 90 percent will remain valid.”

According to Véran, this means “almost all industrial masks”, namely “level 1 general public masks”.

“On the other hand, the homemade mask…does not necessarily offer all the requisite guarantees”, he continued on France Inter.

From a consumer point of view, the situation remains unclear. In a supermarket in central Paris on Tuesday, the majority of fabric masks sold on Tuesday were category 2.

A pack of two plain fabric masks was on sale for €3.99 or €4.99 for category 2, and €4.40 euros for those in category 1. The patterned fabric masks were sold for €9.99 each, whether category 1 or 2.

In all cases, the level of protection category only appeared on the packaging or leaflet contained within, and not on the packaging or the masks themselves.

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