Paris-Donald Trump has not donned one. Emmanuel Macron boasted a small French flag on his. Slovakia’s president made a fashion statement by sporting a fuchsia-coloured one to match her outfit.

As the world starts emerging from coronavirus lockdowns, political leaders are being closely scrutinised over their choice to wear a mask -- or not -- as many people question seemingly mixed messages about the value of face coverings as infection barriers.

Many Western governments counselled against face masks for the general public at the start of the outbreak, which has now claimed more than a quarter of a million lives worldwide.

But as people start returning to work despite the absence of a treatment or vaccine, masks are now being encouraged or even required as a critical anti-virus tool, along with hand washing and social distancing.

As government advice has changed, leaders have had to decide: to cover up or not? “The decision to wear or forgo a mask in public is based on what message the leader wants to convey,” behavioural scientist Jacqueline Gollan of Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, told AFP.

“They are more likely to wear a mask if the leader believes in promoting public health. They may forgo the mask if the leader believes that they should convey that the risk of transmission is low and things are normalised,” she said.

Some have started to appear in public in simple medical masks or more protective N95 or FFP2 masks, others are opting for the washable fabric ones that many governments are encouraging the public to wear.

But a handful, including US President Trump and Brazil’s leader Jair Bolsonaro, are bucking the trend and going about bare-faced.