‘Always wear a mask in public areas’

Places to go: People at KL Sentral during the early morning rush hour. — LOW LAY PHON/The Star

PETALING JAYA: A big majority of public transit passengers observed during the early morning rush hour had been diligent in wearing a face mask, although a small number either chose not to wear it or put it on incorrectly.

During a two-hour observation between the peak hours of 7am and 9am using the Click Counter app, The Star looked at about 7,500 commuters at KL Sentral’s main hall yesterday.

An estimated 90% of them wore face masks properly after getting off the trains and while walking around the one-stop transport hub.

About 300 or 4% of them were seen with no mask on while another 450 or 6% either exposed their nose, mouth or both. Some even had their mask pulled below their chin.Those who complied with wearing a mask seemed to be workers and a small number of students.

Those who did not have a mask on or wore it wrongly also consisted of workers, some senior citizens and even some staff on duty.

The Star also spoke to experts on the behaviour of those refusing to wear a face mask.

Such people, according to Malaysian Public Health Medicine Specialist Association president Dr Zainal Ariffin Omar, were known as the “risk takers”.

“They are known to be risk takers with a ‘tidak apa’ (lackadaisical) attitude. They have no concern for their health and safety or for others, ” he said.

Lauding the majority of passengers who put on a mask, he said the number, based on his observations during the weekends, was lower in smaller towns and rural areas.

“The most important thing is to wear the mask properly at crowded public places such as malls, markets, public transport, schools and offices. This is because everybody, including the high-risk groups, interacts with many people, ” he said, adding that a regulation should be in place to compel people to mask up by focusing on public places.Association of Malaysian Medical Industries secretary-general Datuk Haminnuddin Abd Hamid said the reluctance of some people to wear a mask could be due to its price and availability.

“Some people are still reluctant as masks may still be expensive and not easily available to them.

“I suggest that the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) provides free masks to poor citizens who are unable to get any.

“Also, the controlled price for face masks must go down immediately to ensure that the public can obtain it at a reasonable cost, ” he said.

He also said it was important to make it mandatory for masks to be worn in public areas until the Covid-19 situation improved.

“Policemen should be on the streets to enforce the law and ensure that the public understands the scope of masking up, ” Haminnuddin added.

Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health Dr Sanjay Rampal said mandating the use of face masks in public should account for the magnitude of community transmission rather than the total number of cases.

“Wearing a face mask is a useful preventive strategy, but we should keep it in our arsenal to combat Covid-19 for a time when we have moderate or high community transmission to avoid messaging fatigue.

“This is because community transmission is currently low and we still have sufficient national capacity for contact tracing, testing, isolation and care, ” he said, adding that community transmission occurred when there were cases with no clear source of origin.

He also cautioned that reusing a mask increased the risk of droplets captured in the inner lining of the mask being transmitted to the fingers and other parts of the face.

“The humid weather in Malaysia makes it more likely that masks will get soiled. They should be replaced when soiled, wet or when they need to be removed.

“It is also important to note that most face masks used by the public are ineffective against aerosolised droplets, which are secondary to sneezing, ” Dr Sanjay added.

According to news agency AFP, a new study by scientists at the University of Nebraska in the United States this week has shown for the first time that the coronavirus which causes Covid-19 taken from microdroplets, defined as under five microns, can replicate in lab conditions.

This boosts the hypothesis that speaking and breathing, not just coughing and sneezing, are responsible for spreading Covid-19, and that infectious doses of the virus can travel distances far greater than the two metres urged in the guideline for social distancing.

It was posted on medical preprint site medrxiv.org, where most cutting-edge research during the pandemic is first made public.

The results are still considered preliminary and have yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal, which would lend more credibility to the methods devised by the scientists.

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