WHO mulling whether to champion masks in disease battle

2020-04-02 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download
Special: Battle Against Novel Coronavirus

The World Health Organization voiced its grave concern on Wednesday about the rapid escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic and, with total global cases set to exceed 1 million, signaled it may recommend the wearing of masks to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said there had been an exponential growth in infections during the past five weeks, with the disease now reaching almost every country, territory, and area, and with the number of deaths more than doubling in the past week.

"I am deeply concerned about the rapid escalation and global spread of infection," he said from Geneva during a news conference. The WHO now expects the number of COVID-19 cases to reach 1 million and 50,000 deaths during the coming days.

Tedros emphasized that there are still many unknowns about the virus.

"Three months ago, we knew almost nothing about this coronavirus. Collectively, we have learned an enormous amount. And every day, we learn more," he said, while adding that the WHO has been constantly reviewing and updating its guidance about COVID-19 during recent months.

Tedros said the WHO is continuing to study the evidence around the use of masks.

He said the WHO's priority is that frontline heath workers are able to access essential personal protective equipment, including medical masks and respirators. But he said there is an ongoing debate about the use of masks at the community level.

In an interview on Wednesday on Good Morning America, United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was asked to review its guidance on wearing masks.

"We've learned there's a fair amount of asymptomatic spread, and so we've asked the CDC to take another look at whether or not having more people wear masks will prevent transmission of the disease to other people," Adams said.

Tedros reiterated that the WHO recommends the use of medical masks for people who are sick and for those caring for them.

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

Tedros noted that the WHO continues to gather all available evidence and continues to evaluate the potential use of masks more broadly in attempts to control COVID-19 transmission at the community level.

"This is still a very new virus, and we are learning all the time," he said.

Wearing masks has been common in many East Asian economies. In Europe, only four countries, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina, have made the wearing of masks compulsory in public places, with Austria making the announcement on Monday.

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