Coronavirus: WHO advisers to look at effectiveness of face masks for the public

World Health Organisation (WHO) advisers are assessing whether face masks should be worn more widely to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The panel will look at evidence about the use of masks and the evolving debate on their use for the wider community.

WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday: “There’s an ongoing debate about the use of masks at the community level."

He added: “WHO recommends the use of medical masks for people who are sick and those caring for them.

“However, in these circumstances, masks are only effective when combined with other protective measures.

“WHO continues to gather all available evidence and continues to evaluate the potential use of masks more broadly to control COVID-19 transmission at the community level.”

  • Watch: Should we wear masks and gloves?

  • What is the current WHO guidance?

The WHO recommends that face masks should be worn by people with Covid-19 and are showing symptoms.

Healthy people should only wear them if they are taking care of a person with Covid-19 or if they are coughing and sneezing.

But it says masks are only effective when used in combination with frequent hand washing with soap and water.

If you wear a mask, you must know how to use it, so clean hands before use, cover mouth and nose with the mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.

Research has found coughs and sneezes may travel further than previously thought. Credit: PA

Avoid touching the mask and if you so, make sure you have washed your hands, replace the masks with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not reuse single-use masks.

When removing a mask, remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask), discard of it immediately in a closed bin and wash hands with soap and water.

Public Health England (PHE) say face masks play a very important role in clinical settings, such as hospitals but there’s very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical settings.

PHE said in clinical settings it is recommended that suspected and confirmed Covid-19 patients should wear a fluid-resistant surgical face mask until damp or uncomfortable, to minimise the spread of coughs and sneezes.

PHE say face masks are only effective in clinical settings. Credit: PA
  • What does other research say?

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, US used high-speed cameras to detect how far sneezes and coughs travel.

They found when someone sneezes or coughs, a turbulent gas cloud can carry droplets long distances – up to eight metres for a sneeze.

The current UK advice for social distancing is that people should stay at least two metres from each other.

“Turbulent gas cloud dynamics should influence the design and recommended use of surgical and other masks,” the scientists say.

“These masks can be used both for source control (ie, reducing spread from an infected person) and for protection of the wearer (ie, preventing spread to an unaffected person).”

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know