It’s raining masks. Hallelujah?

With Covid-19 still a global health threat, we need to be proactive, not only in protecting ourselves, but our environment too

pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

THE good news is, the government plans to further decrease the price of face masks to below RM1.

From an economical angle, that could be good for us. However, from a different perspective, the move might just have some untoward effects.

For the uninitiated, two weeks ago, Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Datuk Alexander Nanta Linggi said the government was expecting the price of face masks to drop below RM1 per unit — not too low though, as it would cause problems for manufacturers and lead to supply shortage.

Now, this would be good for the low-income groups, especially families with school-going children who would need fresh masks every day, as well as for those who are outdoors a lot and may need more than one mask a day.

The not-so-good part is, however, cheaper face masks could easily encourage the litterbugs to do what they do worst.

Even before the retail ceiling price of RM1 came into effect on Aug 16, we were already seeing the three-ply face masks, used and unused, littered on the streets, parking lots and parks — just about everywhere.

This writer found face masks scattered, even deliberately hung on trees, during her last camping trip in the jungle where visitors were expected to be more nature-loving than others.

With face masks soon to be made more affordable, the less civilised would not bat an eye before wasting them away, discarding them mindlessly.

Face masks, which were not too long ago sold out everywhere, would be much more easily obtained.

Meanwhile, is anyone monitoring washable fabric face masks that are being sold out there?

Fabric masks are widely available at pharmacies, supermarkets and especially online.

Sadly though, consumers are choosing their fabric face masks according to the design as opposed to quality.

Like a new fashion trend and with no signs that the coronavirus is going away anytime soon, face masks are here to stay and as the public are getting more accustomed to wearing them, they make sure that the masks do not cramp their style.

Floral designs, batik, patriotic, abstract, minimalist. You name the design and there is probably a face mask in the market that fits your personality.

If you are one for big names, there are designer face masks from Melinda Looi, Fizi Woo, Tom Abang Saufi, Bernard Chandran and Jovian Mandagie, complete with crystals and all.

There are also washable masks from Uniqlo, to be released in Malaysia this month, and Under Armour which, although priced over RM100 each, is well-received by active Malaysians.

While these responsible designers have included pockets for disposable filters, what about those cheaper ones that do not meet the Health Ministry’s guidelines?

According to the ministry, fabric masks must have a minimum of three layers, where the innermost layer is in contact with the wearer’s face and outermost layer exposed to the environment.

The ideal combination of material, the ministry said, should include an innermost layer of hydrophilic material, such as cotton or cotton blends; a middle hydrophobic layer of synthetic non-woven material, such as polypropylene or a cotton layer, that may enhance filtration or retain droplets; and an outermost layer made of hydrophobic material, like polypropylene, polyester, or their blends, which can limit external contamination from penetrating to the wearer’s nose and mouth.

Some experimental purchases via various online shopping platforms found that most of the more affordable fabric face masks, while still pretty on the eyes, could be harmful to the body as they are only single- or double-layered.

Now, do not be surprised that even with all the education that the government is doing all these months, there are still so many people out there who are ignorant and continue to spend their money on inadequate masks.

Washable face masks, many have agreed, are the way to go. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) does not recommend the public to use surgical or N95 masks as these are more needed by healthcare workers and frontliners.

The CDCP, however, advised the public to wear fabric masks instead. These need not be designer labels and can even be made at home.

They would hardly cost anything as we can use fabric from old clothes that are just lying around at home, while a dried-out wet wipe can be used for the middle layer filter.

There are now many tutorial videos on YouTube on how to make fabric face masks, and one that was viewed over 5.2 million times as of yesterday is that of Ng Ching Ching, a Malaysian sewing instructor based in Kuala Lumpur.

Titled “DIY Covid-19 Fabric Mask (with Filter Pocket) Sewing Tutorial”, Ng’s three-minute video was even featured on GetUsPPE.org, a US movement of physicians, medical researchers, engineers, scientists and programmers.

With all the resources readily available, it would not be a bad idea if teachers could teach this to their students, parents to their children, even employers to their employees.

With Covid-19 still a global health threat, we need to be proactive, not only in protecting ourselves, but our environment as well.


Farezza Hanum Rashid is the assistant news editor at The Malaysian Reserve.

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