Denmark, which has long been holding out on face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, is changing its guidelines and broadening its recommendations.
"There could be a number of situations where you can use it, for example if you come home from a high-risk area abroad and are travelling to your residence, or if you have to go out to have a test", Helene Probst, acting deputy director of the National Board of Health said, as quoted by the newspaper Extra Bladet.
According to its new advice, those who have tested positive, those in close contact with someone who has tested positive, and those with symptoms are all recommended to use face masks if they are forced to leave self-isolation.
"Use a face mask if you break self-isolation to go out to take a test" the leaflets by the Danish health service read, linking to a guide for correctly using masks. "You might also consider using a mouth or face mask if you are a person at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and cannot avoid situations where you get very close to others, for example, if you have to take public transport during rush hour", it says.
The guide also recommends that relatives of elderly people in care facilities use masks when visiting, and that people returning from countries with a high infection rate on the way back home to go into quarantine.
Probst said that the list of situations where face masks are recommended may be expanded.
"We assess this on an ongoing basis, as we open up society more", she said.
Until now Denmark has largely refrained from recommending the masks, which were only mandatory within the country's airports.
"This is partly because it is uncertain whether it has an effect on the spread of infection, but also because we must ensure that we will not lack face masks where they are most important, in the health and care sector", the Danish health authorities explained the lack of comprehensive mask recommendations earlier this year.
This view was shared by many medical professionals, including Henning Bundgaard, professor of cardiology at Copenhagen University. He stressed that there is no irrefutable proof of the masks' efficacy outside of hospitals. Furthermore, he ventured, masks come with many disadvantages, such as pricing, inconvenience, and breathing problems. Bundgaard also suggested that masks may invoke a feeling of false security.
Denmark has been one of the few holdouts in Europe with regard to mask recommendations. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the EU's infectious disease agency advised the bloc's governments that masks could be helpful in reducing transmission, as early as at the start of April. However, debates on mask efficacy have been lingering on in many countries, such as Finland, where various health authorities have come up with contradictory recommendations, supported by medical professionals.
The World Health Organisation in June updated its recommendations on face masks, recommending governments ask healthy members of the public to wear non-medical face masks in areas where the virus is being transmitted to the community, if it is difficult to maintain social distancing, or in crowded areas such as on public transport.
So far, Denmark has seen close to 13,000 COVID-19 cases and over 600 deaths and is in the process of resuming normal life after weeks of lockdown and precautions.