MAY 4 — Prior to World War II, factories in the United States were producing cars, home appliances and children’s toys.
There were about three million cars produced in the US in 1941.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt transitioned the industrial capacity to prepare the United States for the battle ahead.
These factories only rolled out a further 139 cars during the entire war.
Instead, they churned out tanks, trucks and guns in a bid to help keep their citizens safe, and equip their military to face the war.
In the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, many commenters and lawmakers mooted the idea of a “War against Covid-19” and the need to prepare our society and economy to face this war.
In fact, the World Health Organisation’s call to action to all countries was to implement a “whole of government” and “whole of society” approach to overcome an enemy we cannot see.
As a basic necessity, the WHO said on April 6th that face masks can limit the spread of Covid-19. But that these masks have to be used under a bigger framework of better personal hygiene including handwashing with soap and social distancing of 1 metre in public areas.
However, as Malaysians are sent back to work today for the first time since March 17th, we have not prepared them adequately for battle with sufficient face masks.
First, face masks are important as Covid-19 is spread by droplets that spray into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes or even talks. It can travel as far as 2-6 metres, infecting anyone within this area.
Second, it is even more pertinent in Malaysia as 80 per cent of the positive Covid-19 cases have been asymptomatic, or patients displaying little to no known indications of the virus.
An asymptomatic patient will not know they are a carrier of the virus unless they get tested.
By mandating the wearing of a face mask, it can protect the wearer and those not wearing one.
Third, there is no scientific case against the usage of face masks to reduce the spread of a virus like Covid-19.
The only argument against mandating masks is that it should be reserved for healthcare providers.
That was the right approach during the movement control order especially when personal protective equipment was in short supply.
However, our lockdown, which began March 18th, was dual-purpose; to flatten the curve so our health services are not overstretched, as well as buying time to put in places the necessary steps so our society can face the new normal when the lockdown is lifted.
That is where we have visibly lacked in terms of ensuring adequate supply of essential protective equipment for mass usage.
Similar to the approach during World War II, the government can actively play a role to ensure production of face masks is ramped up so costs come down.
The effectiveness can be further increased by a government jobs programme hiring Malaysians unemployed as a result of businesses shutting down during the MCO.
This will bridge the gap between the shortage of face mask supply, as well as a heightened level of safety for our society as we approach a post-MCO life.
In South Korea, the wearing of face masks was the first step in their rulebook towards a new normal.
Malaysia has increased is capacity of testing for Covid-19 cases, following the example of South Korea.
Now, it is prime time for us to adopt a similar approach to ensure an adequate supply and mandate the use of face masks in public areas.
Otherwise, it will be “back to normal” instead of the “new normal” many have talked about.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.