Former deputy health minister tells Putrajaya to be crystal clear on face mask ruling

Dr Lee said the government decision to leave the enforcement of the law on face masks to the discretion of the police was 'fundamentally wrong'. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Dr Lee said the government decision to leave the enforcement of the law on face masks to the discretion of the police was 'fundamentally wrong'. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 6 — The government must remove any room to interpret its decision to mandate face masks in public spaces to prevent potential abuse and corruption, said former deputy health minister Dr Lee Boon Chye.

He said the lack of clarity about the policy has clearly resulted in confusion among the public and even law enforcement, citing Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement that fines issued for not wearing the masks in private vehicles were invalidated.

Dr Lee also said there were “two main problems” with the National Security Council’s (NSC) directive: availability and affordability among lower income groups.

He reiterated his suggestion for the government to provide reusable cloth masks to all students in primary and secondary school, including preschoolers, and bottom-40 households identified through the Bantuan Sara Hidup database.

“Secondly, the legislation is ambiguous. The areas where mandatory mask wearing is enforced are unclear.

"Even though the NSC listed down specific areas but NSC also included public crowded places. Definition of public crowded places is unclear and subjected to interpretation,” he said in a statement.

Dr Lee said the government decision to leave the enforcement of the law on face masks to the discretion of the police was “fundamentally wrong” and only creates opportunities for abuse and corruption.

“It also erodes trusts, which is a fundamental attribute needed for effective pandemic control

“Overall I am supportive because it helps to reduce the risk of transmission and also because there is already evidence of the SARS CoV2 virus in the local community.

“However the implementation of the policy has to be practical and simple,” he added.

This after a government ruling compelling the use of face masks by all those in public spaces, public transport, and other areas where maintaining physical distancing would be difficult came into effect on Aug 1.

Other ideas proposed by Dr Lee included making it mandatory across the board for everyone to use face masks when meeting another person outside their homes, and requiring those at the frontlines of businesses who engage directly with customers to always use masks.

The suggestion if considered, he said, would affect those working in restaurants and eateries, receptionists, cashiers, all healthcare workers and caregivers in old folks’ homes, orphanages or kindergartens, and all school students and their teachers.

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