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COVID-19: WHO now encourages face masks in public spaces

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its face mask guidelines which cover the use of masks by the general public in areas with community transmissions. It is now recommended to wear a mask in public spaces.

According to WHO’s latest media briefing on COVID-19, all people working in clinical areas of a health facility including those that are not dealing with COVID-19 patients are advised to wear medical masks. It clarifies that even if a doctor is doing a ward round on the cardiology or palliative care units with no confirmed COVID-19 patients, they should still wear a mask.

In addition, people aged 60 years and above, or with underlying conditions in areas with community transmission are recommended to wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible.

According to WHO, in light of evolving evidence, WHO advises the government to encourage the public to wear masks where there are a widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult. This includes public transport, shops or in other confined or crowded environments.

Prior to this, face masks were recommended for frontliners, people that provide care to COVID-19 patients and for those who are showing COVID-19 symptoms. Face masks were previously not recommended for those who are healthy and do not show symptoms. This was the same guidelines used by the Ministry of Health Malaysia.

Although face masks can help to curb the spread of COVID-19 transmission, they urge everyone to know how to use a mask safely. People could infect themselves if their hands are contaminated and they repeatedly take off or put on a mask without washing their hands.

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Face masks aren’t enough to protect you from COVID-19

WHO has also raised concerns that face masks could create a false sense of security, leading people to neglect other measures such as hand hygiene and physical distancing. They stressed that masks alone will not protect you from COVID-19 and it shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for physical distancing. Masks are only a part of a comprehensive approach in the fight against COVID-19.

The WHO has stated that the cornerstone of the response in every country must be to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and to trace and quarantine every contact. It added that this is what they know works and it is every country’s best defense against COVID-19.

The health organisation also updated its guidance on the composition of fabric masks based on academic research. It is recommended that fabric masks should consist of at least three layers of different materials and the full details are outlined in its guidelines.


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Alexander Wong