It is imperative that everyone wear masks in public spaces in case they are asymptomatic with coronavirus, an adviser to the health ministry said on Friday.
Further guidelines to the public on this are expected in the coming days.
Virologist Leondios Kostrikis said people should wear masks to lower the risk of infection even if they do not show any symptoms. “Coronavirus spreads extremely easily” the virologist said.
He cited supermarkets and pharmacies as examples but said “anywhere you know you will come in contact with other people”.
Although the virus is not airborne, Kostrikis said it can be transmitted through invisible microdroplets created in the air when a person talks or sneezes. Those droplets can survive in the air for up to three hours, he said.
Since masks are in high demand and are also needed by health professionals, people can also cover their mouth and nose with pieces of fabric like scarves, Kostrikis said.
“Masks must be worn when we are in contact with other people” he said, “when we are near other people, even within two metres.”
The World Health Organisation, whose directions Cyprus is following, advised the public to only wear masks if they show symptoms so as not to infect others.
Masks do not protect the wearer, WHO, the organisation had been instructing until now.
But with the large percentage of people testing positive showing mild or no symptoms, some countries such as Austria, Poland and the Philippines made face coverings mandatory for going out in public spaces.
Different international specialists also reported recently that wearing a mask in public, or a handcrafted face cover with two layers of cotton fabric helps to slow down the spread of the virus.
Since the pandemic outbreak, there has been high demand on surgical masks worldwide, bringing Cyprus in a disadvantaged position as no masks are manufactured locally.
Pharmacists and importers have been reporting a shortage of surgical masks since February.
State health services organisation Okypy said there are no shortages in public hospitals. Additional safety equipment is expected in Cyprus this weekend to cover the needs of medical staff.
China donated safety equipment last week, including surgical masks. The Chinese friendship association on Friday also donated 1,000 disposable 3 ply masks for front-line employees of the Nicosia municipality.
According to the New York Times on Wednesday China ramped has up production of masks to nearly 12 times its earlier level of 10 million a day.
“China vacuumed up a big share of global supplies after the outbreak emerged in January,” the paper said, adding that China had imported two billion masks in a five-week period starting then, “roughly equivalent to two and a half months of global production. It also imported 400 million pieces of other protective gear, from medical goggles to biohazard coveralls, the paper said.