Good for all to wear masks, but frontliners come first, says expert

The World Health Organization is reported to have suggested that the general public wear reusable cloth masks while keeping surgical masks for healthcare professionals.

PETALING JAYA: An infectious disease expert says there is merit in members of the public wearing face masks but frontliners in the Covid-19 crisis should take priority.

Former health deputy director-general Dr Christopher Lee says with face masks in short supply at present, there is a need to put the needs of frontliners first.

The government had previously advised the people to wear masks only if they exhibited symptoms such as a cough or fever.

However the World Health Organization has reportedly urged the public to wear cloth masks while reserving surgical masks for healthcare workers.

Malaysia’s health director-general, Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, said today the ministry was waiting for WHO’s guidelines on the matter, but had no objection to people wanting to wear masks.

Dr Christopher Lee, former national advisor on infectious diseases.

Lee, who was the ministry’s former national advisor on infectious diseases, said: “Clearly symptomatic patients are more infectious than asymptomatic patients.

“Nevertheless, it has been well documented that asymptomatic transmission can occur and this has made control of Covid-19 all the more challenging.”

The wearing of masks, he said, serves to protect others from being infected by those who were symptomatic and asymptomatic.

“The flip side of this is the availability of surgical masks. It is imperative that we ensure our frontliners have the masks they need as they put their lives on the line for us.”

He said the WHO suggestion for members of the public to use cloth masks would ensure the supply of masks was not diverted from those on the front line against Covid-19.

Lee said other control measures, including social distancing, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette are likely to be more important.

“If we are well and we’re properly socially distancing ourselves, our need for masks is less. However, if you have to go out and you’re well and you have a cloth mask, it would be better for others if you wore one.

“My plea to the public is: please do not compete with frontliners for surgical masks.”