WHO confirms coronavirus advice on face masks following review

Posted: 9 April 2020 1:58 pm

Face mask

The World Health Organization’s latest evidence review concludes wearing a mask in public is not effective against coronavirus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has held off from recommending people wear face masks in public, after assessing fresh evidence from the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology that suggested the virus can be projected further than previously thought.

After re-examining whether the general public might benefit from wearing masks, the WHO maintained that medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers only and those who are sick or caring for someone with the virus.

Health experts around the globe are split on the subject of the public wearing masks when out and about. Some believe that if an infected person is wearing a cloth mask, that can help curb the spread of the virus.

But an expert panel at WHO found no evidence to suggest that wearing a mask in the community prevented healthy people from getting COVID-19. In fact, the WHO went one step further in saying that face masks themselves can become easily contaminated when you’re putting them on or removing them. It also warned that wearing a face mask offers a false sense of security.

“There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, said.

Instead, the WHO maintained its guidance on how to best fight the pandemic, emphasising the importance of social distancing and washing your hands regularly.

This decision contradicts that taken by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which has recommended that Americans wear cloth face masks when out in public, saving the supply of N95 respirator masks for use in hospitals. And some UK experts have also spoken out in favour of the public wearing masks. According to KK Cheng, a public health expert at the University of Birmingham: “It’s not to protect yourself. It’s to protect people against the droplets coming out of your respiratory tract.”

Since the CDC’s announcement, the US has seen a huge surge in demand for cloth masks.

However, reusable cloth masks are not recommended by advisers at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), who say they may even increase the chance of infection because there’s a high chance virus particles could go through cloth and that problems with moisture could also mean the cloth retains the virus.

Currently, the UK is not advising most people to wear either medical or homemade masks, in line with WHO advice. England’s deputy chief medical officer, Prof Jonathan Van Tam, says he doesn’t believe that healthy people wearing them in the UK would reduce the spread of the disease and that social distancing is what matters.

Instead, the coronavirus advice from Public Health England and the British government remains the same:

  • Stay at home whenever possible
  • Only go out for essentials such as food and medical supplies, work or exercise once a day
  • Stay two metres away from others at all times
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds as often as you can

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