KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — As a rising number of countries makes masks mandatory in public spaces, a DAP lawmaker urged Putrajaya to compel the use of face coverings in high-risk places.
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii said the use of face masks should be made obligatory in public spaces like markets, clinics, hospitals, schools, public halls, enclosed venues, and public transportation, that accommodate large numbers of people.
“Such actions are not new and are 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,” he said in a statement.
It is to be noted that countries like Venezuela, Vietnam, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosni Herzegovina, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Austria, Israel, Argentina, Poland have made the use of face masks mandatory in public places.
Recently, the Australian government announced a fine of A$200 for those who refuse to wear face masks in public in Melbourne and the adjacent Mitchell Shire. The Guardian reported that France has made face masks compulsory in public places indoors like shops, supermarkets, and banks from today, with contraventions risking a €135 fine. South China Morning Post reported that Hong Kong is expected to pass a law this week to make wearing face masks mandatory in indoor public places like shopping centres.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, however, tweeted Saturday that the government has not made face masks compulsory because regulations passed under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 provide for a penalty of maximum RM1,000 fine, six months’ jail, or both.
“In Malaysia, DG Datuk Dr Noor Hisham’s recent claims that about 70 per cent 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,” said Dr Yii.
“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,” he added.
Dr Yii also emphasised the importance of “universal masking” and stated that the wearing of masks by 80 per cent of the population will effectively reduce the spread of Covid-19 compared to a strict lockdown, citing a joint study titled “Universal Masking is Urgent in the Covid-19 Pandemic” by researchers from various universities such as University College London, University of Cambridge, Population Research Institute Finland, and others.
“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 is 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,” the Opposition MP said.
At the same time, Dr Yii also highlighted the need to control mask prices in order to provide affordable masks to people from all walks of life.
“In order to properly implement this, the government should look at making the price of a mask affordable including revising the current ceiling price for masks that was increased during the peak of the infection here in Malaysia and making it available to the general public especially those who 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 have complained not receiving it until now.”
Besides that, Dr Yii also stressed the significance of providing masks in schools to protect students, teachers and other school communities.
Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yakob previously reiterated that it is not compulsory to wear face masks in schools. However, he instructed schools to provide masks to students and staff who show coronavirus symptoms during school sessions.
The usage of masks in combating Covid-19 remains debatable among researchers as not many scientific studies have been carried out during the pandemic.
“Based on what we now know about the dynamics of transmission and the pathophysiology of Covid-19, the negative effects of wearing masks outweigh the positive,” Dr Antonio Lazzarino of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London was quoted saying in May.
Prof Trisha Greenhalgh, of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, claimed that the usage of medical masks by the public will reduce masks in the health care sector.
This is in line with a concern Dr Yii raised too.
“While I believe medical masks should be prioritised for medical personnel, until supplies of such masks are sufficient for the entire population, the public can be educated to use other alternatives including proper usage of non-medical fabric face masks,” Dr Yii said.
The DAP lawmaker insisted all stakeholders, including non-government organisations (NGOS) and civil society, to join hand in hand to promote proper understanding of the matter among all civilians, as he urged for proper implementation and promotion of common goods and community protections.