WHO maintains surgical masks alone cannot prevent Covid-19

Justin Ong
The World Health Organisation is standing by its position on surgical masks, saying wearing one by itself was not a preventive measure against Covid-19. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, April 7 — The World Health Organisation is standing by its position on surgical masks, saying wearing one by itself was not a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (Covid-19) infections.

In an updated advisory released today, it also maintained its recommendations for health workers to be prioritised for the supply of surgical masks over the general population.

“Wearing a medical mask is one of the prevention measures that can limit the spread of certain respiratory viral diseases, including Covid-19. 

“However, the use of a mask alone is insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection, and other measures should also be adopted,” the global body said in the advisory.

It went on to say the use of surgical masks may create a false sense of security and lead users to forego other essential habits to limit their risk of exposure, such as frequent hand washing and minimising facial touching.

The WHO said current research continued to show that Covid-19 infections were spread through droplets and contaminated surfaces.

Symptomatic persons should don a facial mask to reduce the risk of infecting others, but otherwise healthy individuals should simply practise social distancing, regular hand washing, not touching their faces, and observe proper sneezing and coughing etiquette.

It also advised health authorities to be clear about the purpose of wearing facial masks in the event this is mandated for the community, and to communicate that the item was not protective against Covid-19.

The usage of masks in the Covid-19 pandemic has been controversial due to the distinct divergence between the WHO’s recommendations and apparent practice in afflicted East Asian nations.

Dr Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, fuelled the controversy when he said the organisation supported government initiatives to require or encourage the public use of masks.

In Malaysia, the Health Ministry has adopted the WHO’s advisory on surgical masks and only recommends them for symptomatic groups and healthcare workers.

However, Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah previously said there was no issue if individuals want to wear one.

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