FILE PHOTO: A WHO flag is pictured between rounds of the election of the new Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) during the 70th World Health Assembly at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
GENEVA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Friday said it still believed the use of respirator masks should be focused mainly on medical workers, but opened the door to greater use of homemade masks or other mouth coverings as a way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
A senior WHO official told reporters there was some possibility of airborne transmission of the virus that has now infected over 1 million people worldwide, but the main driver was still believed to be symptomatic people who were coughing and sneezing and contaminating surfaces or other people.
“We must preserve medical surgical respirator masks for our frontline workers, but the idea of using respiratory coverings or mouth coverings to prevent coughing or sneezing… that in itself is not a bad idea,” said Dr. Mike Ryan, the WHO’s top emergencies expert. He said that would not negate the need for handwashing and social distancing.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Andrea Shalal in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien