Malaysia cannot handle another Covid-19 wave. We must act now.

I strongly believe the Federal and State Government should look into the need of making face-mask mandatory in “designated high-risk public areas” on top of the important hand hygiene and social distancing to curb the spread of COVID-19. This includes markets, clinics and hospitals, malls, schools, public transport, public halls and enclosed venues where people converge in groups for a prolonged period and where interactions are unavoidable.

Such actions are not new and is seen mandated in about 75 countries around the world in an attempt to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, with citizens facing a possible fine if caught without one. As of early May 2020, 88% of the world’s population lives in countries that recommend or mandate the use of masks in public including countries such as Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria, Qatar, South Korea, France, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela and many others.

In Malaysia, the Health Director General(DG) Datuk Dr Noor Hisham recent claims that about 70% of COVID-19 patients in our country are asymptomatic, increases the need for  face-mask usage in high-risk public as Covid-19 may spread from pre- and asymptomatic individuals who may not know that they are infected, and to linger as airborne droplets.

“70% of COVID-19 patients in Malaysia are asymptomatic” Health Director General(DG) Datuk Dr Noor Hisham. Image Source: Borneo Post

Face masks are mainly designed to protect people from the wearer. The current SOP may be insufficient including the recording temperature in most public places, which cannot identify a carrier especially if they are asymptomatic. That is why an additional layer of protection should be added especially against droplets, which is the primary source of the spread of the virus.

While the issue of “Universal Masking” is still being highly debated, but there are leading political and medical experts who has since the beginning advocated for the need for masking including the Chinese CDC Director General Prof. George Fu Gao, and even former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Prof. Caitlin Rivers of Johns Hopkins.

The latest joint study titled “Universal Masking is Urgent in the COVID-19 Pandemic” conducted by researchers from various universities such as University College London, University of Cambridge, Population Research Institute Finland, and others shows the importance of “universal masking” and that even if 80 percent of the population wearing masks, that act itself would do more to reduce COVID-19 spread than a strict lock down.

Masking is nearly perfectly correlated with lower daily growth or strong reduction from peak growth of COVID-19 based on the data shown. In simple terms, it is the best measure for people who have COVID-19, whether they are asymptomatic or not to protect them from giving COVID-19 to other people. Even if one if not a Covid-19 carrier, one can still be benefited from wearing a mask as it gives an extra layer of protection and significantly lower the risk of getting infected.

Dr. Kelvin Yii, who was infected with the virus in early March has seen a near perfect correlation between masking and lower Covid-19 rates

In order to properly implement this, the government should look at making the price of mask affordable including revising the current ceiling price for mask that was increased during the peak of the infection here in Malaysia and making it available to general public especially those may not be able to afford it. It is regrettable that the promised free mask by the federal government did not reach most of its intended target as many has complained not receiving it until now. 

The government should also provide mask especially in schools to give extra protection for our younger generations, the teachers and the staff in the school.

Schools should be supplied with free masks to ensure protection for teachers and students alike. Image Source: AsiaOne

On top of that, the government should also seek to secure mass production and availability of appropriate medical masks during the pandemic by incentivising the local mask producers to produce more to cater for the need of the population on top of the need for healthcare services. While I believe medical mask should be prioritised for medical personnel, but until supplies of such mask is sufficient for entire population, the public can be educated to use other alternative including proper usage of non-medical fabric face mask.

Public awareness on the importance of masking has to be also promoted in collaboration with all stakeholders, including NGOS and civil society so there is proper understanding of the matter and proper buy-in which is needed for proper implementation and promotion of common good and community protections.

Masking protects your community, not just you – Dr. Kelvin Yii, Bandar Kuching MP. Image Source : Reuters

With the case of Covid-19 growing in certain parts of our country especially here in Kuching, I believe the government should look at enforcing more layers of protection and lean on the side of caution for  to avoid a huge possible 2nd wave that may have devastating economic impact to the people. Masking protects your community, not just you.

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