Coronavirus: Who should be wearing masks?

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Media captionWhen can they protect people from the virus?

Masks can help stop the spread of coronavirus – but only if they are used in the right circumstances.


The World Health Organization says only two types of people should wear masks, those who are:

  • sick and show symptoms
  • caring for people suspected to have the coronavirus

Why doesn’t everyone wear one?

Surgical masks are not recommended for the general public because:

  • they can be contaminated by other people’s coughs and sneezes or when putting them on or removing them
  • frequent hand-washing and social distancing are more effective
  • they might offer a false sense of security

Coronavirus is spread by droplets that can spray into the air when those infected talk, cough and sneeze.

These can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, either directly or after touching a contaminated object.

But if these people wear masks, these droplets may be curtailed.

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

What is the best type of mask?

Homemade facemasks are not recommended because there is no guarantee they will provide enough protection, even when used correctly.

In hospitals, different types of mask offer different grades of protection.

The most protective, an FFP3 or an N95, has a fitted respirator that filters air.

Experts do not recommend the public use these. They are for healthcare workers in close contact with coronavirus patients and at highest risk of encountering infected airborne droplets.

Other NHS staff in lower risk situations can wear a surgical mask.

What else can protect against coronavirus?

Gloves and other protective wear are recommended for NHS staff working in places where they could encounter coronavirus.

Again, staff in the highest risk scenarios are advised to wear fuller protection, rather than a simple apron, gloves, mask and goggles.

The general public are not advised to wear gloves or any other protective gear.

To protect yourself from coronavirus, the NHS recommends:

  • Wash hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds and immediately on returning home
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve – not your hands – when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean



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