Quebec health experts call on province to make masks mandatory

Microbiologist and infectious disease expert Amir Khadir is one of about 30 doctors calling for the province to make the use of masks mandatory. Thursday June 11, 2020. Sebastien Gagnon-Dorval / Global News

A group of about 30 doctors and health experts are calling on the Quebec government to make wearing masks mandatory for people over 12 years-old in closed and crowded public spaces.

The experts believe the measure would help limit the number of COVID-19 infections and avoid a potential second wave of cases.

“We need that to gain our freedom, to be able to find a part of our normal lives, the activities we love, the people we love,” said Amir Khadir, a microbiologist, infectious disease specialist and former member of Quebec’s National Assembly.

Khadir says it’s been shown that wearing masks is the best way to protect others and we should follow the example of other countries that have made it mandatory and succeeded in limiting the number of infections.

READ MORE: Hong Kong reports no new COVID-19 cases as India, Singapore see spike in infections

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“That’s why for example in Hong Kong — which has almost the same population as Quebec — they have only a bit more than a 1,000 cases and four deaths. In Quebec, with the same population, we’ve had more than 50,000 cases and 5,000 deaths,” Khadir explained.

“We need this measure of protection in order to be able to avoid a second wave, in order to avoid being forced to go back to all those draconian measures of confinement.”

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The province has so far only recommended that people wear masks in public. So has the Canadian government.

Quebec public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda says they are not excluding making masks mandatory, however, they are giving time for the public to be convinced of wearing them.

“We will see if it becomes a social norm,” Arruda said during the province’s daily press conference on Thursday.

Arruda added public health is looking into the latest studies available.

READ MORE: Quebec sees 144 new coronavirus cases, bringing total to 53,485

A simulation study led by Cornell University in the United States showed that there was a significant impact when at least 80 per cent of a population is wearing masks, versus minimal impact when only 50 per cent or less of the population is wearing masks, and significant impact when universal masking is adopted early.

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“These effects hold even at the lower filtering rates of homemade masks,” the study read.

The study compared empirical data from regions with different policies regarding masking and analyzed their daily case growth rates.

“Results show a near perfect correlation between early universal masking and successful suppression of daily case growth rates and, or reduction from peak daily case growth rates, as predicted by our theoretical simulations,” the study read.

READ MORE: Toronto make face masks mandatory on TTC, Ontario recommends all riders wear them

Another study funded by the World Health Organization (WHO) also found that the use of face masks could result “in a large reduction in risk of infection,” the study read, especially if the masks were N95 or similar respirators compared with disposable surgical masks or similar.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Study confirms masks, social distancing measures do help curb the spread of COVID-19' Health Matters: Study confirms masks, social distancing measures do help curb the spread of COVID-19
Health Matters: Study confirms masks, social distancing measures do help curb the spread of COVID-19 – Jun 11, 2020

Dr. Marie-Michelle Bellon who works at the COVID-19 unit at the Notre-Dame hospital said wearing a mask is also a sign of acknowledgement of the work front line workers are doing. “And a demonstration of solidarity with those who are caring for us and and risk their lives,” Bellon wrote in a press release.

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Among the signatories of the petition is Dr. Joanne Liu, the former head of Doctors Without Borders who now works at the Ste-Justine hospital for children.

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