PETALING JAYA: The government must provide evidence on the effectiveness of imposing a face mask mandate in schools before deciding to reintroduce it to curb the spread of Covid-19, says a former deputy health minister.
Dr Lee Boon Chye was commenting on a proposal by health minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa to make face masks mandatory in schools again.
This followed the detection of an Omicron subvariant, Arcturus, that is said to be highly transmissible and less susceptible to vaccines.
Lee called for the health ministry to provide data to show that the mask mandate in schools would be effective in curbing the spread of Covid-19.
“I doubt that wearing a face mask will make any difference. There must be data to show that the mask mandate can help reduce the spread of the virus,” he told FMT.
According to Lee, the mortality rate for the Arcturus variant is lower compared with Omicron, which he said meant there was less of a need for a mask mandate in schools.
Health ministry data shows that 43% of children aged five to 11 have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine while 92% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated.
The former Gopeng MP said that Covid-19 vaccines would be sufficient to protect students unless the Covid-19 mortality rate starts increasing.
Lee pointed out that the Arcturus variant is listed as a “variant of interest (VOI)” and not a “variant of concern (VOC)”, by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The US’ Center of Disease Control (CDC) describes VOIs as variants that may have a significant impact on transmissibility while VOCs, which is the most troubling category, indicates higher transmissibility and more severe infection.
Meanwhile, National Union of Teaching Profession (NUTP) secretary-general Fouzi Singon welcomed Zaliha’s suggestion for students to mask up, stating that schools had begun to relax their SOPs since the country entered the transition to the Covid-19 endemic phase last April.
Fouzi also said parents should take note of their children’s health because they could spread the virus to their schoolmates, if they were infected.
“It is appropriate for schools to take measures (to protect students) to ensure that parents are not worried about sending their children to school,” he said.
“Parents need to be strict. If a child has symptoms such as sore throat, cough or watery eyes, they should not be sent to school.”