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Mask Etiquette Among Malaysians Post Relaxation of MCO 

By Dato’ Dr Amar-Singh HSS
Senior Consultant Paediatrician

The Movement Control Order (MCO) was relaxed on 4th May 2020 to allow for some sectors of society to return to work and business. We recognise that not all Malaysians practise safe prevention measures. Mask usage is a useful adjunct protective measure to safe physical distancing and hand washing.

I searched for images and videos of the public posted only on the 4th of May 2020 on mainstream and social media. These images and videos were analysed as to the use of masks, type of masks, adequacy of face covering (position of mask), whether masks were being touched and the use of other face devices. Individuals who could not be visualised well were excluded. Care was taken to avoid any duplicate images or videos.

I was able to identify 448 individuals seen clearly from 36 images and videos. They were imaged at food outlets, in or at entry to malls, in or at mass transport locations, at roadside queues, etc. Of these only 355 could be analysed as the rest had their backs facing the camera. Most were taken in Klang Valley. The table shows a summary of the data.

Table: Face mask usage and etiquette immediate post relaxation of MCO

Face Mask Details Number Percentage
Mask Worn or Available (around neck) 339 95.5%
Limited Adequacy of Face Covering (mask present but hanging around neck or nose exposed) 10 3.0%
Type of Masks 3-Ply Surgical Mask 230 67.8%
N-95 Mask 6 1.8
Cloth mask 109 32.2%
Bandana 4* 1.2%
Mask Touched/Handled 11 3.2%
Use of Face Shield 2

(security personnel)

0.6%
Use of Gloves 7 2.1%

*One lady used her tudung covering to pull over the face

Although this data is a small ‘snap-shot’ of the public, it offers some idea of the behaviour on the first day post MCO relaxation. The data however offers no idea of the behaviour inside offices and throughout the day.

While it is encouraging that the vast majority (95%) had masks, 3% did not use them correctly and another 3% were touching the outer surface of the mask. The majority (68%) used 3-ply surgical masks, which may be of concern. While 3-ply surgical masks are more protective than cloth masks, they do not last as long (1-2 hours) and need to be changed once damp. Excessive use of surgical masks by the general public will deplete an important resource for healthcare professionals (HCPs). It is possible that some were wearing surgical masks for travel and might then change to cloth masks or wear no masks in the office. A small percentage (1.8%) were using N-95 masks and this should be discouraged as there is a shortage for HCPs.

3% were seen hanging the mask around their neck or leaving their nose exposed, which defeats the purpose of wearing masks. Some would do this when eating but fail to recognise the risk of pulling down the mask and putting it up again with resultant hand contamination. Hand disinfection before wearing and when taking off masks is crucial. Of even more concern is the 3% that were spotted touching the mask with hands or handphones – a good way to get infected with the coronavirus. Handphones should be used with the speaker function and not brought to the face when wearing a mask. 2% percent of the public/staff were identified to be wearing gloves. They should be discouraged from wearing gloves routinely, as this gives a false sense of security. With gloves on, they may touch many surfaces and become a risk to others. Gloves should only be used short term, for cleaning activities.

Two security persons were noticed using a face shield. Face shields are useful but not always easy to wear in a busy work environment. Cashiers, security guards and frontline staff should consider wearing safety glasses (with side & top shields) that can be easily cleaned or washed.

In three images, the public were seen entering their details into a book. Although the authorities have asked premises to note down the person visiting the location, this practice of using a physical book is dangerous as it aids COVID-19 transmission.

There has been much debate about the value of masks in this pandemic. A recent evidence-based analysis of the studies available titled ‘Review Face Masks Against COVID-19: An Evidence Review’ (preprint available here) concluded that “The preponderance of evidence indicates that mask wearing reduces the transmissibility per contact by reducing transmission of infected droplets in both laboratory and clinical contexts. Public mask wearing is most effective at stopping spread of the virus when compliance is high. …. Thus we recommend the adoption of public cloth mask wearing, as an effective form of source control, in conjunction with existing hygiene, distancing, and contact tracing strategies. We recommend that public officials and governments strongly encourage the use of widespread face masks in public, including the use of appropriate regulation.

In the face of this pandemic, I would encourage the public to use cloth masks routinely when outside the home. The public must remember that wearing masks must not lull us into a false sense of security. Safe physical distancing is the single most important measure and must never be neglected.

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