WHO gives new Covid-19 guidance on wearing of masks

The World Health Organization (WHO) has changed its initial position on the wearing of face masks in public areas as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The world health body last week recommended that governments make it mandatory for people to wear fabric face masks in public areas where there is a risk of transmission of COVID-19.

WHO had previously argued there was not enough evidence to say that healthy people should wear masks.

In its new guidance, prompted by evidence from studies conducted in recent weeks, the WHO stressed that face masks were only one of a range of tools that can reduce the risk of viral transmission, and should not give a false sense of protection.

“In light of evolving evidence, the WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments. Masks on their own will not protect you from COVID-19,” the WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a briefing.

WHO’s technical lead expert on COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, said in an interview: “We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask. And we specify a fabric mask - that is, a non-medical mask.

“We have new research findings,” she added. “We have evidence now that if this is done properly it can provide a barrier for potentially infectious droplets.”

While many countries across the world have recommended or mandated the wearing of face coverings in public, the WHO had previously said there was not enough evidence for or against the use of masks for healthy people in the wider community. It had always recommended that medical masks be worn by people who are sick and by those caring for them.

The U.N. agency’s advice that all healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19 patients, or with suspected cases of the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, should wear medical masks remains the same, Van Kerkhove said.

But the advice has been broadened to recommend staff coming into contact with any patients or residents in clinics, hospitals, care homes and long-term residential facilities should also wear masks at all times, she said. The organisation had always advised that medical face masks should be worn by people who are sick and by those caring for them.

As of last week, there were over 6.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 400,000 deaths globally since the outbreak began late last year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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