Wear Masks in Public, WHO Says in New Advice
The global body said new information showed they could provide “a barrier for potentially infectious droplets”.
Some countries around the world already recommend or mandate the wearing of face coverings in public.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead expert on Covid-19, told Reuters news agency the recommendation was for people to wear a “fabric mask – that is, a non-medical mask” in areas where there is a risk of transmission of the disease.
Globally, there have been 6.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 400,000 deaths since the outbreak began late last year, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
What is the WHO’s advice?
The organisation said its new guidance had been prompted by studies over recent weeks. “We are advising governments to encourage that the general public wear a mask,” Dr Van Kerkhove said.
At the same time, the WHO stressed that face masks were just one of a range of tools that could be used to reduce the risk of transmission – and that they should not give people a false sense of protection.
Big shift in guidance
This is a big shift in the WHO’s guidance on when the public should cover their faces. For months, the organisation’s experts stuck to the line that masks would encourage a false sense of security and would deprive medical professionals of badly needed protective equipment.
Those arguments have not gone away but at the same time the WHO acknowledges that new evidence has emerged on the risks of transmission.
It points to recent research that people can be highly infectious in the few days before they show symptoms and that some people catch the virus but never show symptoms at all, as I reported last weekend.
So where distancing is not possible, such as on public transport and in locations as varied as shops and refugee camps, it is suggested that faces are covered with homemade masks to avoid passing on the infection.
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.
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.
What are the latest key developments globally?
The court of appeal in New South Wales, Australia, overturned a ban on a Black Lives Matter protest, which was imposed due to coronavirus concerns. Thousands flooded the streets of Sydney to commemorate African American George Floyd, who died in US police custody.
In other news:
- The EU commissioner for home affairs said member states should reopen their internal borders by end of June
- Coronavirus is largely retreating in those US states that acted quickly to lock down, but is persisting and even rising sharply in states that locked down later and are already starting to ease restrictions, the Washington Post reports
- California will allow film, television and music production to restart on 12 June if conditions allow
- Portugal will start reopening its beaches later on Saturday
- In Poland, gyms, swimming pools and amusement parks will reopen
- In Austria, the Vienna Philharmonic, one of the most celebrated orchestras in the world, gave its first live performance since the lockdown