Reader question: I have just ordered a pack of FFP2 masks in France. It has all the right CE qualifications but there are holes in it - won’t the virus get in?
Short answer: The holes are part of the filtration system, not actual holes
The advice on wearing masks in France has changed over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
First they were recommended, then mandatory in enclosed spaces, then mandatory everywhere and in January this year, Health Minister Olivier Véran stated that people should stop wearing homemade masks as they do not offer enough protection.
It is now recommended that people in France wear masks that are FFP2 or FFP3, surgical or category 1 fabric masks.
See the French government's advice on masks here.
In short, surgical masks are the light blue ones that you often see people wearing (see below picture). These are around 95% effective at blocking your own particles from spreading.
Category 1 fabric masks are around 90% effective at preventing the spread of your own particles. Unlike surgical masks, they are washable and reusable.
French health authorities say that if you made a mask by yourself, there is no guarantee it can achieve the same performance. The recommendation then is that people buy fabric masks from large manufacturers and check that it states category 1 on it.
If you are shopping online for masks in France, for example, you can search masque categorie 1 lavable and you should find a mask that matches this specification.
FFP2 and FFP3 masks are different to surgical masks or category 1 fabric masks because as well as blocking your particles from spreading, they also prevent other people’s particles reaching your mouth and nose.
FFP stands for “filtering facepiece”. This is likely why to our reader it seems that there are holes in their mask. If they check carefully, they should find that they are not actually holes that go all the way through.
Note, if there are holes in your mask, it is entirely ineffective. If you have been sold a FFP2 mask with actual holes in it, you should complain and claim a refund.
FFP2 and FFP3 masks are highly effective at preventing your particles from spreading and others entering your mouth and nose.
FFP1 masks, however, are only 70% effective and should not be worn.
There are also masks with filtration valves in them (see below picture). These masks are to be avoided because although they protect the wearer by filtering out incoming particles, they also eject particles that you breathe out, meaning that if the wearer has Covid-19 they may spread the virus.
Masks that are recommended to be worn in France:
FFP2, FFP3, category 1 fabric masks
Masks not recommended to be worn in France:
Homemade masks, category 2 masks, FFP1 masks, masks with valves