Amid debate over benefits, another health group says wearing face masks key to contain Covid-19

A worker at a Chinese sundry shop collects customers' details as part of new standard operating procedures during the conditional movement control in Kuala Lumpur. Experts have argued that face masks are crucial to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, pointing to data suggesting a high number of infections are caused by asymptomatic cases. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
A worker at a Chinese sundry shop collects customers' details as part of new standard operating procedures during the conditional movement control in Kuala Lumpur. Experts have argued that face masks are crucial to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, pointing to data suggesting a high number of infections are caused by asymptomatic cases. ― Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, May 11 — More health groups have joined the chorus calling for people to wear face masks in public amid debate over its benefits in containing the spread of Covid-19 spread.

The Malaysian Thoracic Society is the latest to urge the government to encourage the use of face masks as the government eased some restrictions to allow the population adapt to life with Covid-19 post-lockdown. 

Any advisory by health authorities, the group stressed, must be based on scientific evidence, citing views held by public health authorities worldwide that suggest surgical masks help prevent asymptomatic carriers from spreading the coronavirus.

“Scientific evidence points to the use of facemasks in primarily helping to control the source of infection,” it said in a statement 

“This is a key public health initiative as a sizable number of Covid -19 infections occur in the asymptomatic phase,” the group added.

“It has also been shown to be as equally beneficial as the practice of frequent handwashing as a mitigation strategy.”

Several non-governmental medical groups and experts have expressed concern over the Ministry of Health’s advice about wearing face masks in public.

The experts argued that surgical masks are crucial to contain the outbreak, pointing to data suggesting a high number of infections are caused by asymptomatic cases.

Still, Health Director-General Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has repeatedly said only people who show symptoms or are sick should wear masks, although he also said cautious members of the public are free to do so.

But as the country transitions into a gradual reopening phase, health groups said the increase in social activities make any precaution against Covid-19 critical, more so as the country prepares for some of the biggest festivities.

“This period also includes several major religious and cultural festivals such as Hari Raya, Hari Keamatan and Hari Gawai which will inevitably bring increased social interaction between family members and also within the community,” the Malaysian Thoracic Society said.

“In educating the public as they gradually enter into the new normal, it is imperative that any advice given by the government to all Malaysians is guided by the best scientific evidence,” it added. 

“Because this will help control Covid-19 infection, thus preventing a surge whilst instilling confidence among the general public.”

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