Make face masks free for B40 group, says Thoracic Society

KUALA LUMPUR: Suitable face masks should be made freely available to the B40 low-income group, says the Malaysian Thoracic Society.

Its president Assoc Prof Dr Pang Yong Kek said the compulsory use of face masks posed an added financial burden to the B40 group.

He said they hoped the government would be sensitive to the cost factor for the struggling B40 population, given the current economic climate.

"Suitable face masks should be made freely available to the B40 group.

"A face mask could be a simple World Health Organisation (WHO) specification-compliant, home-made cloth mask or a commercial three-ply mask.

"The mask must be replaced or washed if reusable," he said in a statement on Wednesday (July 30).

Dr Pang said the use of face masks in reducing SARS CoV-2 transmissions by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infected individuals was supported by scientific evidence, and in line with similar initiatives across the globe and in keeping with the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While agreeing with the government’s move to mandate the wearing of face masks in public spaces from August 1, he said the government should be clear and consistent on the definition of "public spaces" where the wearing of face masks was mandatory.

"Exclusions, such as for those with breathing problems or small children, must be made explicit," he said.

Dr Pang also said the use of face masks in public transport and crowded public spaces such as markets or shopping malls was necessary.

"However, its exemption in overcrowded schools requires refinement and regular review for emerging evidence and changing prevalence of Covid-19 in the community.

"Although it's voluntary, teachers and students should always wear masks when social distancing is not possible, and this must be practised together with other hygiene measures at all schools," he said.

He also said the government still needed to emphasise that the use of face masks in public spaces was only one of an overall strategy that included hand washing, social distancing and sanitising places of frequent use.

"There must be a continuation of the initiatives to educate members of the public on these ‘new norms’.

"Simple infographics in multiple languages are particularly helpful and can be done in tandem with professional/non-profit organisations.

"There is ample evidence to show that a knowledgeable public increases community adherence to health policy advice," he said.

The society is a professional medical body that represents the respiratory medical fraternity with the objective of advancing knowledge and practice of respiratory medicine in Malaysia.

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