WHO says fabric masks still ok, contrary to France’s advice

The world health body maintains its recommendation of fabric masks after the French government advised against using those made at home

23 January 2021
France's government is now advising against people wearing homemade fabric masks, while the WHO says it is fine
By Connexion journalist

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that it will continue to recommend the use of fabric masks despite fears over the spread of contagious variants of Covid-19 as the strains are still propagated in the same way.

This comes after France’s Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Thursday (January 21) that people should stop wearing home-made fabric masks, even those made by following online tutorials.

He suggested people stop wearing masks they have made themselves, adding that 90% of fabric masks made industrially are still acceptable.

His comments are in line with new recommendations made by French health body the Haute Conseil de la Santé Publique (HCSP).

Covid France: Some masks less effective against UK variant

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said yesterday that some of the new variants "may have increased transmissibility", but based on studies in the UK and South Africa, "we have no indication that the modes of transmission has changed. It spreads the same way".

The WHO states that "non-medical, fabric masks can be used by the general public under the age of 60 and who do not have underlying health conditions".

Dr Van Kerkhove, speaking at a press conference, said that “countries are free to make decisions as they see fit”.

“We will continue to look at the evidence that we have seen, but from the data that we have seen from the countries that have these virus variants, there is no change in the modes of transmission.

“If anything changes, we will modify and we will update accordingly,” she said.

What is the French advice on fabric masks?

Mr Véran said, “all masks with 90% filtering power remain valid”.

"As it is not marked on the masks, I will give an indication: almost all industrial masks for the general public have filtering capacities of more than 90%, this is what we call level 1 masks for the general public. 

“On the other hand, masks that one makes at home with the best of intentions, respecting the Afnor standards...do not necessarily offer all the necessary guarantees.”

Germany and Austria have recently made wearing medical masks (surgical or FFP2) mandatory in shops and on public transport. When asked about this, Mr Véran said France was not currently planning on introducing this measure.

“At this stage, we are not changing the recommendations...What the scientists and the HCSP are telling us is that if two people wear a 90% filtering mask, the effectiveness is the same as if one person wears an FFP2 mask and the other wears a conventional mask.”

Read more:

French town's Covid facemasks recycled as rulers for schools

France plans special face masks for sport and exercise

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