Masks are only for those infected with influenza A (H1N1), those showing symptoms of the disease or those handling patients, the central government warned Thursday and said it was 'unscientific for normal people' to wear them.
'It is unscientific for normal people to wear masks,' Director General of Health Services (DGHS) R.K. Srivastava told reporters here as the government stepped in to prevent panic buying of masks that had created a shortage in the market.
India has reported 20 deaths from the deadly virus that has infected 1,193 people. Of these, 589 have been discharged after treatment.
'We have 1.1 billion population and if everyday one person uses two masks the demand would not be met. No industry, organisation or government could fulfil this demand,' Srivastava told reporters.
'We want to inform everyone about who all should use these masks and where to use them. The mask is necessary for the swine flu patients and those who are taking care of them. Besides this, the masks are for those who are handling the patients, at labs, collecting samples and diagnostic centres,' he added.
He said that those who have been advised home quarantine and have mild symptoms of swine flu are also required to use masks.
'We want to urge that the masks should be rightly used,' Srivastava said.
Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad aired the same view earlier in the day when he said: 'Face masks are not for everyone but for people who have flu like symptoms.'
According to Azad, those who have the infection should stay at home.
'People who have swine flu symptoms should consult a doctor and take proper precautions. They should limit their communication and remain at home to avoid the virus from spreading.'
The panic buying of masks has led to a shortage in the market. There have been reports of many chemists hoarding them and then selling them at exorbitant rates.
Responding to the media reports, the union health ministry Wednesday held a meeting with state drug controllers and asked them to take strict action against those who are hoarding the masks and selling Tamiflu illegally. Tamiflu, which is one of the two anti-influenza drugs available, is only available at state-run government hospitals.