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Fact check: The World Health Organization did not change advice to say masks are not necessary

A website screenshot being shared on Facebook has falsely claimed that the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a January 2021 press conference that it was advising people without symptoms of coronavirus not to wear face masks.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

The screenshot was taken from a WordPress blog that has posted other unsubstantiated claims(here). On Jan. 25, an entry headlined “WHO: You do NOT need to wear a mask” was posted to the site, claiming the WHO had there was no medical reason to support the wearing of masks outside hospital (here). The post added that the comments were made during a press conference on Jan. 22, before linking to the WHO’s video page (www.who.int).

“In a telling admission made on January 22, 2021, the World Health Organization now say there is no scientific medical reason for any healthy person to wear a mask outside of a hospital,” the post read. “Sadly, our corrupt politicians and mainstream media only relate the bad news.

“If you do not have any respiratory symptoms, such as fever, cough, or runny nose, you do not need to wear a medical mask. When used alone, masks can give you a false feeling of protection and can even be a source of infection when not used correctly.”

This is not true. There was no such comment made during the Jan. 22 press conference, nor is this in line with the WHO’s guidance.

In fact, in response to a question on Jan. 22 about the efficacy of masks in the face of new COVID-19 variants, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, said they were “one aspect of control” that helps reduce transmission in conjunction with other measures.

She said: “They can’t be used alone, so we need to emphasise that because not one solution is enough. Not masks alone, not physical distancing, not hand hygiene – you’ve heard us say that quite a lot.”

Kerkhove then went on to detail guidance for those who choose to wear fabric masks, adding: “We recommend a three-layer mask, and in our guidance materials itself, we have recommendations on the specifications for filtration: what the type of fabric should be for the inner later, the middle layer and the outer layer. Not all fabric masks are the same, so they need to be produced and made so that they provide the right type of protection and source control.”

The WHO also has a webpage filled with comprehensive guidance in text and video on how to boost effectiveness of face masks (here).

VERDICT

False. The WHO has not changed its advice to deem masks unnecessary outside hospital – and has, in fact, strengthened its position on masks being one of many measures that together can help limit transmission of COVID-19.

Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .

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