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Is mandatory mask-wearing by everyone effective?

Members of the general public have been discouraged from using surgical masks and N95 respirators amid global shortages of protective equipment for health workers. But recently updated guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) give examples in which “the general public should be encouraged to use medical [surgical] masks”. These include when someone who is 60 years and older or with underlying conditions is unable to practise social distancing.

According to the WHO, the widespread use of masks by healthy people “is not supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence”. But, based on factors such as the spread of Covid-19 by people who aren’t showing symptoms and “observational evidence” on the use of masks by the general public, the agency is recommending that governments encourage mask-wearing in particular circumstances.

Examples where the use of non-medical (fabric) masks should be encouraged, according to the WHO, is in public settings such as grocery stores, workplaces, gatherings, schools and places of worship.

The effectiveness of fabric masks varies depending on the material used.


Related: ANALYSIS: Not all cloth masks are equal, but better than no protection from coronavirus

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