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Advice on the matter has been inconsistent, with health experts and the World Health Organisation earlier advising that people leave the masks to medics and others on the Covid-19 frontline.

That position has, however, been questioned by various researchers, and it is now clear that wearing a mask is crucial in protecting oneself from a virus that has infected more than one million people worldwide and killed more than 50,000.

On Thursday, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe announced measures to make the wearing of masks mandatory for all travellers, signalling a major policy shift.

In the US, the Trump administration was expected this week to announce that all Americans should wear cloth masks or other face coverings if they go out in public, based on a forthcoming recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would also mark a shift in federal guidelines amid new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms.

The CDC, like WHO, had advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick or coughing.

Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks, including N95 respirators, for healthcare workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuous short supply.

But according to a US federal official, the CDC will now recommend that everyone wear face coverings in public settings, like pharmacies and supermarkets, to avoid unwittingly spreading the virus.

Public health officials have stressed that N95 masks should be saved for frontline doctors and nurses, who have been in dire need of protective gear.

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