Coronavirus: World Health Organisation reverses course, now supports wearing face masks in public

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The World Health Organisation now supports wearing face masks in public

  • Surgical masks should still be reserved for medical professionals with the general population using home-made face coverings, global health agency says
  • ‘There may be situations where the wearing of masks may reduce the rate at which infected individuals may infect others’

The World Health Organisation says it supports government initiatives that require or encourage the public wearing of masks, marking a major shift from previous advice amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The WHO added that surgical masks should be reserved for medical professionals, while the public should use mainly cloth or home-made face coverings.

The updated stance comes as more scientific research points to the positive effect of wearing masks in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, with more governments in Europe requiring people to cover their noses and mouths in public.

“We can certainly see circumstances on which the use of masks, both home-made and cloth masks, at the community level may help with an overall comprehensive response to this disease,” Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said on Friday.

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“There may be situations where the wearing of masks may reduce the rate at which infected individuals may infect others,” Ryan said. “We will support governments who wish to have a measured approach to the use of masks and who include that as part of the comprehensive strategy to control this disease.

By comprehensive strategy, the WHO means measures such as encouraging washing of hands, physical distancing and rapid testing to identify and quarantine those who are infected.

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