WHO advises people to wear face masks in public spaces

Updated: Jun 10, 2020


The World Health Organization (WHO) has changed its advice on face masks, saying they should be worn in public where social distancing is not possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus.


WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that "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".


The announcement on Friday marks a significant U-turn by the WHO, which until now has been reluctant to advocate the wearing of masks by the public because of limited evidence that they offer protection.


The global body said new information showed they could provide "a barrier for potentially infectious droplets".


Some countries already recommend or mandate face coverings in public.


People over 60 or with health issues should wear a medical-grade mask when they are out and cannot socially distance.


The WHO said people should be advised to wear masks not only on buses and trains but also wherever physical distancing may be hard - in grocery stores, at work, at social gatherings, at mass gatherings and in closed settings, including schools, churches, mosques and other places of worship.


All others should wear a three-layer fabric mask: absorbent cotton closest to the face, followed by a polypropylene layer and then a synthetic layer that is fluid-resistant, the WHO said.


People caring for somebody who is sick at home should wear a medical mask, not a fabric mask, WHO has advised.


In the UK, the government announced on Friday that hospital visitors and outpatients would be required to wear face coverings, and that hospital staff would have to wear medical masks, even if they were not in a clinical setting.


The guidance will come into force on 15 June, as more businesses open up and more pupils return to school. Also on Friday the UK became the second country to record more than 40,000 coronavirus-related deaths, after the US.


Meanwhile, in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro threatened to pull the country out of the WHO unless it ceased to be a "partisan political organisation". The leader, who had initially dismissed the virus as a "little flu", has been critical of the lockdown policies recommended by the agency to tackle the spread of the disease.

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