Covid 19 coronavirus: WHO changes advice on wearing masks

Grant Boone
June 6, 2020

"In light of evolving evidence, World Health Organization advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is hard, such as on public transport, in shops, or in other confined or crowded environments".

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday released guidelines on the use of masks as controversy swirls in some countries due to political leaders' remarks over their use.

'Masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene and other public health measures.

NHS staff already wear face masks in clinical areas within two metres of a patient, but this new guidance applies to everyone working in all areas of a hospital.

"Masks on their own will not protect you from Covid-19", said the WHO's Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

So where distancing isn't possible, such as on public transport and in locations as varied as shops and refugee camps, it's suggested that faces are covered with homemade masks to avoid passing on the infection.

This is a big shift in the WHO's guidance on when the public should cover their faces.

It states that there are benefits and risks to wearing non-medical face masks and countries are taking differing approaches depending on their Covid-19 status.

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Face masks were previously not recommended for those who are healthy and do not show symptoms.

She said part of the reason for the widening of WHO's advice on face masks was the increasing evidence COVID-19 can be spread by people before they have symptoms.

However, the United Nations health body warns that masks are not a replacement for physical distancing, hand hygiene and other public health measures, and they are only of benefit as part of a comprehensive approach in the fight against COVID-19.

As before, those caring for an infected person at home should wear a medical mask when in the same room; and health workers should wear medical masks plus protective equipment when dealing with suspected or confirmed Covid-19 patients.

Based on new academic research, Tedros said the World Health Organization advised people to wear masks consisting of at least three layers of different materials, as outlined in the guidelines, if wearing fabric variants.

Part of the reason why mask-wearing and the messaging around it is so nuanced is because, as noted above, the mask you wear doesn't so much protect you as it does those around you.

"Find, isolate, test and care for every case, and to trace and quarantine every contact".

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