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June 8, 2020 - The World Health Organisation has updated its guidance to recommend that governments ask people to wear fabric face masks in public to curb the spread of coronavirus disease (Covid-19).
The WHO said Friday it is now advising that in areas where the virus is spreading, people should wear fabric masks when social distancing is not possible, such as on public transportation and in shops.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said people over age 60 or with underlying medical conditions also should wear masks in situations where social distancing cannot be maintained. WHO previously had recommended that only healthcare workers, people with Covid-19 and their caregivers wear medical masks, noting a global shortage of supplies.
During a press briefing discussing the revised guidance, Tedros added that “masks on their own will not protect you from Covid-19” and emphasised the importance of hand-washing, social distancing and other infection-prevention strategies.
WHO also widened its mask guidance to specify that health workers in areas where the virus is spreading freely should always wear masks inside medical facilities. Doctors working in cardiology or other wards, for example, should wear medical masks even if the facilities had no known coronavirus patients, Tedros said.
April Baller, a WHO infection control expert, said the type of masks recommended for the general public are fabric or cloth coverings that can be made at home. 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.
WHO previously said that transmission from people who do not have symptoms was not believed to be a major driver of the virus pandemic.
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