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N95, P2 or cloth: Which mask is best for the Omicron variant?


Medical advice is growing that standard cloth masks are largely ineffective for the latest strain of COVID-19.

Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020, people in Australia and across the world have been advised to wear a mask or face covering when social distancing is not possible in public.

Most people turned to surgical face masks or reusable cloth masks to help keep them safe from infection.

But there is increasing reporting from members of the medical community that those masks simply don't provide enough, or indeed any, protection against the latest variant.

Tighter fitting masks, sometimes referred to as respirators, are now being recommended in the United States and elsewhere. They have a variety of names, including P2, N95 or KN95 masks, and are all fairly similar in terms of protection.

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These fitted masks work by filtering out "airborne particulates". They are also generally single-use masks and can be bought in multi-packs.

The type of masks used can often vary by region. The N95 mask is most common in North America, while you will see P2 masks commonly in Australia and New Zealand, and KN95 masks most often in China. All of them are available to buy from varied outlets in Australia, depending on stock.

As Australians are experiencing with rapid antigen tests right now, face masks can also prove difficult to find due to stock issues although there are a lot of options in the market.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection in the US is considering upgrading its mask advice since the explosion of Omicron cases.

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration is currently undertaking its own review of face masks and is yet to release its findings.

Keen for more COVID-19 information? Check out our COVID home testing hub. We also have a guide to wearing masks in Australia.

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