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Mask use can prevent 200k COVID deaths in India: Study

Widespread use of masks and maintaining social distancing measures can prevent at least 200,000 coronavirus disease (Covid-19)-related deaths by December 1, shows a new modelling of the pandemic in the country.

The new data, which was released last Saturday, has underlined the critical need for the public to comply with the use of face masks, maintain social distancing norms and other Covid-19 guidelines issued by the government to prevent the spread of the contagion.

“Meta analysis of individual studies has shown that masks can reduce disease transmission by 40% for individuals and in aggregate at population level you can see results for India. The use of masks doesn’t impede any economic activity. Besides, it’s extremely cost-effective,” said Dr Christopher Murray from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which has done the modelling of the viral outbreak.

“The masks don’t need to be high-end ones such as N-95. Cloth masks will do just fine,” he added.

In the worst-case scenario, India may report 492,380 Covid-19 deaths by December 1 because of easing of lockdown restrictions and the use of masks at the current level, the modelling has forecast.

If the healthcare crisis deepens, 13 states are staring at over 10,000 Covid-19-related deaths each by December 1, the modelling has warned.

Now, only Maharashtra – the epicentre of the viral outbreak in the country – has reported over 10,000 deaths because of the contagion and it’s toll tally is 23,775.

The data from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoH&FW) showed that 62,550 Covid-19 patients have succumbed to their viral infection.

In the best-case scenario, the deaths can potentially come down to 2,91,14, the modelling has suggested.

However, it has recommended certain dos and don’ts for the Covid-19-related toll tally to improve.

To begin with, the use of masks must go up to 95% coupled with reimposition of a six-week lockdown in states if the daily death rate in a state exceeds eight per million population .

In the best-case scenario, the model predicts at least eight states are likely to cross 10,000 Covid-19 deaths by December 1.

Andhra Pradesh (19,685), Karnataka (31,001), Kerala (11,602), Maharashtra (85,686), Punjab (16,404), Tamil Nadu (24,592), Uttar Pradesh (21,524) and West Bengal (22,053) have been projected to report these fatalities due to the viral infection by December 1.

The data scientists in the paper agree that India’s response to Covid-19 has produced some significant successes that highlight the opportunity to restrict the pandemic’s toll in the country.

In some urban areas, including Delhi, containment measures such as intensive contact tracing, ramping up of daily testing mechanism, wearing of masks, and maintaining social distancing norms have helped reduce the spread of the contagion.

Initially, IHME had started modelling the epidemic in the United States of America (USA) in March.

Later, it was expanded to other countries in Europe and Latin America, and now they cover most nations in the world with epidemics of any size, including India.

“In terms of average error for forecast, we have the smallest error, of about 20% at 10 weeks, among the models. We update our models every week, for every country, as it is important to understand many aspects of the epidemic. It’s important to stay on top of it,” said Murray.

Epidemiologists said that these estimates are aligned with the available evidence on the use of masks.

“Their estimates suggest that we might be saving at least 419 deaths per day from a month now, if we were to mandate universal use of masks. It is not only intuitive but aligned with overall evidence that we have so far,” said Dr Giridhar R Babu, head, life course epidemiology, Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI). – Hindustan Times

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