People should continue to wear masks in public, say WHO officials

People should continue to wear masks in public, say WHO officials

Regional officials at the World Health Organization on Wednesday encouraged everyone to continue wearing masks in public to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, even if local authorities no longer mandate their use.

“The use of masks is still recommended,” said Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of health emergencies at the Pan American Health Organization, the WHO’s regional arm for the Western Hemisphere.

Masks have proven to be highly effective in reducing transmission of the virus when used properly, Ugarte said on a conference call with reporters and other WHO officials.

“It is a measure that still remains very relevant and complementary to other measures” such as social distancing, hand washing and adequate indoor ventilation, he said. “Our general advice is that the general public wear a non-medical mask indoors or outdoors where physical distancing of at least one meter cannot be maintained.”

Several countries have recently dropped mask requirements, including the United States, where a federal mandate for masks for public transportation was overturned by a judge on Monday, although the Biden administration is appealing.

“Regarding travelers and air travel, we know that wearing masks has dramatically reduced transmission during travel,” Ugarte said when asked about the decision that nullified the mandate in the United States. He expressed concern that people could be stigmatized for choosing to wear masks when they are no longer needed.

Mask use should be voluntary only in countries where there is virtually no community transmission and only when accompanied by increased testing and vaccination, he said.

“We have seen that in some countries, mask use has been reduced to voluntary levels while at the same time reduced case detection,” said Dr. Ugarte. “We can’t let our guard down.”

While many countries in the Americas have achieved very high vaccination rates, some remain far behind, PAHO officials said. Dr. Carissa Etienne, director of the agency, noted that Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala and Paraguay, among others, have yet to vaccinate half of their populations, allowing the virus to continue causing deaths.

“In some countries, Covid has become the #1 cause of maternal deaths,” said Dr. Etienne. “These deaths are preventable.”

In other parts of the world:

  • WHO Eastern Mediterranean region officials, which includes more than 20 countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Southwest Asia, said on Wednesday that vaccination rates in the region were very low, with only about 40% of people fully vaccinated. While new coronavirus-related cases and deaths have declined, transmission remains high, making it risky to reduce testing and surveillance, as some countries in the region have been doing, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO regional director, told a news conference. Press conference. The hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in the winter will bring huge crowds of visitors to the region, and “of course, when you bring together a large number of people, you worry about the increased transmission of disease,” said Richard Brennan, WHO regional director for health emergencies.

Emma Bubola contributed reports.

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