BRITS may soon be ordered to wear a face mask in public after new evidence has prompted authorities to consider a major turnaround.
World Health Organization advisers today will review research that suggests their wider use helps fight coronaviruses.
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The review may lead WHO and the UK government to rewrite existing guidelines, which recommend their use only in limited circumstances.
Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and social unrest are still the best way to prevent the spread of the deadly new virus.
The NHS has so far maintained that there is “very little evidence” of their benefits outside of the hospital, but masks are mandatory in some countries.
Professor David Heymann, who chairs the advisory group, said that new data from Hong Kong and the United States had led to the review.
The infectious disease expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said there were “no preconceived decisions.”
And he believes that companies could respond to any increase in demand that would result despite current shortages of health workers.
Professor Heymann added: “There is currently a debate about the usefulness of masks because Hong Kong has provided evidence that masks can be useful in protecting people from infection.
“We don’t know yet if it’s true.
“WHO, the group I work with, is debating with a group of experts from around the world to find out if there is evidence that would warrant a change in what the WHO recommends. “
Its strategic and technical advisory group on infectious risks will ensure that healthcare workers are given priority.
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But he added: “There is a private sector healthy enough to start producing these masks in the quantities needed. “
Some experts have warned that there is an increased risk of infection if people do not use facial masks correctly or are not careful when removing them.
Others have said they can protect people from the virus and prevent people from spreading it.
Professor Benjamin Cowling of the University of Hong Kong said, “If face masks are used on a lot of people in crowded areas, I think it would have some effect on public transmission, and at the moment we let’s look for every little measure we can reduce the transmission – it adds up. “
The WHO has said that people should only wear masks if they are caring for someone with Covid-19, or if they cough or sneeze.
WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan warned of the widespread use of masks on Monday.
He said: “There is no specific evidence to suggest that the mass population is wearing masks as a potential benefit.
“In fact, there is evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly.
Warning regarding online coronavirus testing
Professor Heymann said people should be careful when purchasing coronavirus tests online – including one advertised on Facebook for £ 39.
He warned that the tests were unreliable and even if they showed that someone had been infected and recovered, their immunity might not last long.
He added, “It’s a free world, anyone can buy what they want to buy and use it.
“But you have to think twice if it’s a wise investment for the purpose for which you want the test to be done.” “
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“There is also the problem that we have a massive global shortage.
“Right now, the people most at risk from this virus are front-line health workers who are exposed to the virus every second of every day.
“The thought that they don’t have a mask is awful.”