As WHO chief advises to wear masks in public areas, he says Covid-19 is an opportunity for India to speed up Ayushman Bharat

As WHO chief advises to wear masks in public areas, he says Covid-19 is an opportunity for India to speed up Ayushman Bharat

The World Health Organization (WHO) has changed its stand on face masks, saying masks should be worn in public where keeping physical distance is not possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

The UN health agency said new information found they could provide “a barrier for potentially infectious droplets”.

Some nations already recommend or mandate face masks in public.

The agency had previously argued there was not enough evidence to say that healthy people should wear masks.

However, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday that in view of evolving evidence, the WHO advises that governments should encourage the general public to wear masks where there is widespread transmission and physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments”.

In the new guidelines, the WHO said, over 60s, and those with underlying conditions, have been advised to wear medical-grade masks to give themselves better protection.

The agency said its new guidance had been prompted by studies over recent weeks.

Based on new research and evidence, the agency also advises that fabric masks should consist of at least three layers of different materials. 

At the same time, WHO also cautioned that face coverings are not a replacement for social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene – and all guidelines should be strictly followed to keep the risk of coronavirus transmission at bay. 

The WHO chief further stressed that the basis of the response in every country must be to find, isolate, test and care for every case, and to trace and quarantine every contact,

Globally, there have been 6.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and about 400,000 deaths since the virus outbreak began late 2019 in Wuhan in China, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Recording the highest single-day spike in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths for the third straight day, India today reported 9,887 fresh cases and 294 fatalities.

This takes the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 2,36,657 and the death toll at 6,642.

Responding to a question on the COVID-19 situation in India, Ghebreyesus said that the coronavirus pandemic, which has presented challenges for several nations, could be an “opportunity” for India to speed up its health insurance scheme, Ayushman Bharat, especially with a focus on primary healthcare.

Ayushman Bharat is the world’s largest health insurance scheme, which aims to cover more than 500 million beneficiaries and provide coverage of Rs 500,000 per family, per year. The scheme was launched by the Narendra Modi government in 2018.

Last month, PM Modi had said that the number of people who have benefited from the scheme crossed the one crore-mark.