WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks.
The World Health Organization Friday changed its advice on face masks amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying they should be worn in places where the virus is widespread and physical distancing is difficult.
The use of masks has been a hot topic ever since the pandemic first emerged in China in December.
"In light of evolving evidence, WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult," said WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
WHO now recommends all people working in clinical sections of a health facility should wear medical masks. File photo
In areas with community-level virus transmission, "we advise that people aged 60 years or over, or those with underlying conditions, should wear a medical mask in situations where physical distancing is not possible", he added.
But the UN health agency stressed that facemasks alone "will not protect you from COVID-19" -- and people suffering with the virus should not be out in public if they can avoid it.
The WHO maintained its recommendation that people who are sick with COVID-19 symptoms should stay at home and if it is absolutely necessary for them or their contacts to leave home, they should wear a medical mask.
As before, those caring for an infected person at home should wear a medical mask when in the same room; and health workers should wear medical masks plus protective equipment when dealing with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients.
But in an update affecting healthcare workers, the WHO now recommends that in areas with widespread virus transmission, all people working in clinical sections of a health facility should wear medical masks -- not just those dealing with patients with COVID-19.