ATHENS – While the wearing of face masks is mandatory in many places in Greece, especially supermarkets and public gathering areas – widely defied or ignored – they are critical to prevent catching or spreading COVID-19, health authorities said.
Used in conjunction with social distancing, to stay at least two meters (6.56 feet) apart from other people, masks will keep the infection rate low, three Athens Medical School health experts told Kathimerini.
That came as Greek officials said the public is not complying with health measures with no reports of fines or other actions as the New Democracy government promised for violators.
Face masks should be “made mandatory even on the beach,” said epidemiology professor Athena Linos although people don't wear them there and other requirements to limit the numbers under umbrellas has been ignored and unenforced.
“If the person next to you is less than two meters away you must wear it because, at this distance, we breathe in the air exhaled by the other,” he said, adding that gatherings should be limited to 10-15 people although signs show mass gatherings around bars and eateries.
Linos said she believes a decision to let thousands of employees return to their offices was risky. “Since teleworking has worked and a vaccine has not yet been found, there was no reason (to return to the office,” she said of the government's decision.
“Employees returned to their workplaces without a mask and with the air conditioners open, which in Greece use mostly recycled air,” and can work to spread the virus even faster as measures prohibiting their use has also been ignored.
Dr. Nikolaos Sipsas, an infectious diseases expert, said that when a person is standing less than two meters from another, “you must wear (the mask) without a second thought," adding that face masks should be obligatory for employees working in shopping malls or restaurants and cafes.
Masks made of fabric offer 75% protection, while the rate for surgical masks is even higher, added Dr Athanasios Tsakris, a clinical microbiologist at the Athens Medical School, although many people use thinner paper masks.
“The most common mode of transmission seems to be through talking, when we talk to each other loudly and in close proximity,” he also said.