200,000 would need to wear face masks to stop one new infection: Norway health agency

Norway's health authorities have doubled down on their recommendation for those without symptoms not to wear face masks, arguing that the number of infections in Norway was now so low that they were unnecessary.

200,000 would need to wear face masks to stop one new infection: Norway health agency
People wait for a bus wearing face masks in Hamm, Germany. Photo: AFP
In a memo, published in English on its website, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said that even in the best case, with medical masks which prevent 40 percent of infections, 200,000 people would have to wear them to prevent just one new infection per week. 
This, it said, meant that the likely negative impacts outweighed any benefits “in the current epidemiological situation”. 
“The number of people who experience undesirable effects is likely to be much larger than the number of infections prevented,” it said. 
It said, however, that the authorities should look again at face masks if the pandemic flares up again. 
“If epidemiological situation worsens substantially in a geographical area, the use of face masks as a precautionary measure should be reconsidered,” it said.
“Measures to reduce risks during necessary public transport and during mass events, including wearing face masks, should be explored further.” 
In the memo,  described as a “rapid review of the evidence”, the institute acknowledged that the World Health Organisation had updated its guidelines, and now recommended countries ask citizens to wear masks in “settings where individuals are unable to keep a physical distance of at least 1 metre.”
“There is evidence of a protective effect of medical face masks against respiratory infections in community settings,” the institute conceded. “However, study results vary greatly.” 
It noted, however, that “countrywide training programmes” would be needed to stop incorrect use of medical face masks. 
In addition, it said it was likely many people would use non-medical face masks whose effectiveness has not yet been adequately demonstrated. 
Many people find masks uncomfortable, and experience problems breathing and communicating, it argued. There was also a risk that masks would generate a false sense of security, leading to people to drop other protective measures. 

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‘A recommendation and not a law’: Norway trusts public over face mask guidelines

Norway’s government announced on Friday that it is now recommending face masks for use on public transport.

'A recommendation and not a law': Norway trusts public over face mask guidelines
A file photo of a woman at a bus stop in Oslo. Photo: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen /Unsplash

The recommendations apply initially to Oslo and the Indre Østfold municipality as well as to journeys to and from these locations.

They take effect for an initial 14 days.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Norway: Face masks recommended on Oslo public transport

The new guidelines on face masks are a recommendation and therefore not a mandatory requirement which authorities can enforce.

Norway’s Directorate of Health (Helsedirektoratet) is confident that members of the public will understand the seriousness of the situation and follow the recommendations, the authority’s director Bjørn Guldvog said to VG.

“It’s not relevant to use the police to control compliance with this recommendation. Local transport companies can decide whether to use security personnel or other staff to advise passengers,” he said.


Operating company Ruter is responsible for the running of buses in Oslo. The firm’s press spokesperson Knut-Martin Løken told VG that Ruter does not have the authority to enforce either the wearing of face masks or sanctions for not wearing them.

“This is a recommendation and not a law,” Løken told the newspaper.

As such, passengers who use buses, trams or underground rail in Oslo will not be asked to disembark if they refuse to wear face masks, he confirmed.

Information posters outlining face mask recommendations will be placed by Ruter on board buses, trams and underground T-bane trains.

National rail operator Vy will, like Ruter, not ask passengers to leave trains if they do not wear face masks.

“This is voluntary. It is passengers’ own responsibility to wear a face mask and keep a one-metre distance,” Vy head of communication Nina Schage told VG.

“If (the train) is full, we encourage you to consider a different departure,” she added.