People in the United States and Europe are wrong not to wear face masks in public during the Covid-19 pandemic, said the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The big mistake in the US and Europe, in my opinion, is that people aren't wearing masks," Gao Fu, the agency's director-general, said in an interview with the journal Science.
"This virus is transmitted by droplets and close contact," he said. "Droplets play a very important role " you've got to wear a mask, because when you speak, there are always droplets coming out of your mouth."
Gao joined a chorus of researchers urging global health authorities to reconsider not recommending wider use of the face mask by people who don't feel ill to limit the transmission of the coronavirus.
The World Health Organization says only people showing symptoms of infection or those caring for someone that has Covid-19 needs to wear a face mask.
Most European and US health authorities take a similar view, citing a supply shortage in medical facilities.
But Gao said people should err on the side of caution, and some countries have suggested the use of homemade masks if surgical masks are not available.
Earlier this month, the Czech Republic became the first country in Europe to issue a national mandate requiring people to wear face coverings " including homemade masks" when outside their homes. South Korea has advised reusing masks if necessary.
In recommending wider adoption of face masks, Gao said the protective gear would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus by carriers who have no symptoms or whose symptoms have yet to show.
"If they are wearing face masks, it can prevent droplets that carry the virus from escaping and infecting others," said Gao, who was part of the Chinese team that isolated and sequenced the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 in January.
In its latest public advisory issued on March 22, the Chinese CDC said that people need not wear face masks when they are at home or in an open space. However, they should still wear them in the office, meeting rooms, lifts and on public transport, the agency said.
Gao has also called for more thermometers in public spaces in Europe and the US to detect people who might have symptoms of the Covid-19.
"Anywhere you go inside in China, there are thermometers," he said. "You have to try to take people's temperature as often as you can to make sure that whoever has a high fever stays out."
According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, the coronavirus has infected at least 700,000 people globally and killed over 34,000 as of Monday, with the US and Italy being the new epicenters of the pandemic.
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