Do you need to wear a mask to protect yourself from the coronavirus?

Source: AAP

We asked experts whether wearing a disposable mask will actually help protect you from coronavirus.

Between the bushfire threat and the coronavirus, suppliers around Australia are currently experiencing shortages of disposable masks.

Earlier this week, the head of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) announced that GPs urgently needed access to supplies, and the government responded by releasing one million masks from the national medical stockpile.

Those masks will be distributed to general practices and pharmacists in areas where bushfires have depleted stocks.

If you're struggling to find masks in your area right now, there's no need to panic. In fact, if you're trying to protect yourself from coronavirus, you may not need a mask at all.

Who needs to wear a mask right now?

Currently, experts advise that masks should be worn by anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms, as well as anyone at high risk of developing coronavirus.

If you've been to China in the past 14 days and you're experiencing symptoms including fever, a cough, a sore throat or shortness of breath, advice from experts is to wear a mask to avoid transmitting the virus to anyone else, and see your GP.

Medical professionals treating people with suspected coronavirus should also wear masks to protect against the virus.

For everyone else, experts say there's no need to rush out and buy a mask right now.

"There is no need for the Australian public to wear masks. The only people who should wear masks in relation to this virus are those who are unwell and have a relevant travel history," Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said on Tuesday.

RACGP president Dr Harry Nespolon told The Feed there's no need for most people to wear a mask right now unless they want to.

"At the moment the advice is that just walking down the street is not going to cause you to get the coronavirus -- you really need to be in close contact with someone who's both got the symptoms and has been to China in the last 14 days, to be really at risk," he said.

"If you're perfectly well at the moment, you should go about life normally."

Which types of masks actually help protect against the coronavirus?

If you are looking to buy a mask, make sure you get the right mask for your circumstances.

Both surgical masks and P2 masks (also known as N95 masks) will help to prevent the transmission of the coronavirus, though a P2 mask fits more snugly around the nose and mouth, creating a tighter seal.

If you're looking for a mask to filter out bushfire smoke, you'll need a P2 mask, as a surgical mask cannot effectively filter out the particles involved.

What's the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

The latest recommendations on protecting yourself from coronavirus are published on the Department of Health website.

Right now, the department recommends washing your hands regularly, covering your mouth while coughing or sneezing, and avoiding contact with wild or farm animals.

"People who do have a viral infection, or have the symptoms of a viral infection, should be following the usual advice that we give people each year about dealing with viral infections," Dr Nespolon told The Feed.

"So namely, if you've got a cough, cough into your elbow -- in other words, cover your mouth -- and make sure you wash your hands after you do that. If you are constantly touching your face because you're blowing your nose then once again, wash your hands after that."

"Use a new tissue each time and dispose of it every time. And if you really are sick, stay home. Don't spread it to your colleagues at work."

"A lot of this is about responsibility, and taking some personal responsibility regarding our community. So if you are at risk, and we know what the risk factors are, you really should be presenting to your GP."

What's the latest on the mask shortage?

Dr. Nespolon said that the government's contribution of one million masks should go a long way toward dealing with the shortage at medical practices.

"We do need to keep it a little bit in perspective," he said. "We're not talking about thousands of people that will be presenting at general practices, it's more likely to be in the hundreds and the tens. So a million masks will allow a lot of safety margin."