September 16, 2020 at 04:25PM

Global health and political leaders could have done many things better in confronting the coronavirus from the outset, philanthropist Bill Gates said, reflecting on the medical and societal response to the pandemic. And a big one remains a topic of controversy more than eight months after the virus first appeared: the use of face masks.

“The number of things that in retrospect, could have been done better on this pandemic is very, very large,” the Microsoft co-founder said last week while discussing the latest release of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual Goalkeepers Report, which measures progress made toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. “Even the medical community are understanding of the importance of masks. You know, it took us several months — most respiratory diseases are coughing diseases. They’re not talking or singing diseases. And so we got that one wrong. We underestimated the value of masks.”

Mask wearing is now mandatory in a number of countries, cities, businesses and public venues. But medical guidance was conflicted early on, with health authorities initially advising against wearing masks, questioning their efficacy and urging the public to leave them for front-line workers amid a supply shortage. Now, inconsistent mask rules in states and cities and the refusal by large numbers of people, particularly in the U.S., to wear them is contributing to the continued coronavirus spread, many medical professionals say.

President Donald Trump has largely avoided wearing a mask and has not required them at his campaign events. He first wore a face mask in public in July, while visiting a hospital, four months after the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, and has since called wearing them “patriotic.” Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also belittled masks, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson didn’t wear one publicly until July. Johnson and Bolsonaro both tested positive for the coronavirus.

Bill Gates: ‘We underestimated the value of masks’, CNBC, Sep 16

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