“Using face-masks in public (including low-efficacy cloth masks) is very useful in minimising community transmission and burden of COVID-19, provided their coverage level is high. The masks coverage needed to eliminate COVID-19 decreases if the masks-based intervention is combined with strict social distancing strategy,” the researchers have said in their study.

The study also found that up to 45% of the deaths projected in New York over the next two months could be prevented if 80% of the people started using some sort of mask.

“It will be another 12 to 18 months until mass vaccination or herd immunity finally becomes a reality. In the meanwhile, we need to start respecting the mask, change our behaviour and start getting used to this new face accessory on an immediate basis,” said Dr Sundeep Salvi, vice-president of the Indian Chest Society and member of several task forces and committees appointed by central and Maharashtra governments to help tackle the pandemic.

“Virus particles stay suspended within 1.5 m of the person, but this suspended concentration falls off sharply after that distance,” the study said, while concluding that the results suggested that airborne transmission from infected persons could be greatly reduced by wearing a simple cotton mask and maintaining a “strict physical distancing of two metres”.