A top World Health Organization (WHO) expert said here on Friday that there are certainly circumstances in which the use of masks at community level may help in an overall comprehensive response to the current COVID-19 outbreak.
Michael Ryan, executive director of the health emergencies program, said during a virtual press conference that the WHO will support governments using masks as part of a comprehensive strategy to control this disease.
"There's a very important and very healthy debate at the moment looking at how masks should be used in this response," Ryan said, adding that there are circumstances and "we need to be open on this."
"This is a new epidemic. It is challenging everything," he said when answering a question from the press.
According to the WHO expert, there are particular circumstances in which it may not be possible to do physical distances, in which people may not have access to all of the services that may be available in other countries. "There may be situations where the wearing of masks may reduce the rate of infection," said the expert.
However, he stressed that it should be considered in the context of a comprehensive strategy to control the disease, and it also should be considered in terms of the types of transmission that are happening.
"The idea of using respiratory coverings or mouth coverings for prevention, that's a mechanical process and that in itself is not a bad idea," he said.
But that doesn't negate the need for hand washing, doesn't negate the need for physical distancing and doesn't negate the need for people to stay at home if there's a stay-at-home order, he added.
He stressed that first and foremost, surgical and medical masks are for the medical system and "we must prioritize their use to protect health workers in the front line."
"With that in mind, WHO already advises the use of medical masks for people who are ill and at home or people who are caring for sick people at home," he said.
According to him, the WHO is now looking at every evidence to see what place can be found for this intervention of wearing masks in the overall global response to the pandemic.
"We had a long meeting today with our strategic and technical advisory group on infectious hazards from all over the world. I know our expert group on infection prevention and control has been talking about this very intensely over the last days," he told the reporters.