The face mask debate

There is a lot of debate on whether we should wear a face mask or not, if it should be made mandatory, where and when? With new evidence indicating that the new coronavirus could be airborne, face masks are recommended to prevent the spread of the virus.

Some are wearing it even without having to be told. Some have no complaints and some resist even when being told to wear one, especially in public places. It is mostly those who do not understand the risk or the skeptics who believe that a mask cannot save them. All these arise from the fact that we do not have a community transmission.

It is surprising that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are debating about whether to wear a face mask or not. There are more important issues. A community in Samtse is now quarantined since a person living outside the country had sneaked in. The community must be worried and we can safely assume that people must be rushing for face masks.

We need not wait for a community transmission to wear a mask. Why is a face mask a problem? Why is it uncomfortable to wear a mask weighing about 45 grammes when we are good with layers of clothes or make up?  Why do we resist it when health officials wear it for long hours? The advice is to wear it in public places, not day and night at home and work.

There are uncertainties surrounding the new virus. But what is confirmed is that a face mask is a good preventive measure against not only Covid-19, but also many other airborne diseases. It is proven that drug resistant superbugs are spreading from the hospitals. We may not get the novel coronavirus, but if exposed, we could be vulnerable to a superbug or a hospital-acquired disease. The hospital we visit for help and cure could be the key facilitator of transmission, researchers have concluded with evidence.

Even if we are waiting for a local transmission, health authorities are convinced that it is not about if, but when and how. Should there be one case, by the time we get used to face masks, it would be too late. If the novel coronavirus is airborne, we are vulnerable. Cases across the border are increasing by the day. Neighbouring Jalpaiguri district alone has 88 cases, a few more than the total cases we have.

We know how risky we are given the porous border and cases of people sneaking in or out. We can help by cooperating. Even as we complain of a Nu 20 face mask weighing 45 grammes, His Majesty The King has just returned after an inspection visit to the east and south.  Our health officials, police, DeSuups, forestry officials and many others are tolerating the monsoon and the mosquito and snake infested places to keep us safe.  We should be able to wear a mask for 30 minutes in a public place.

We could also do with some awareness if, for instance, villagers are not understanding the risk. Lets not leave it to the health ministry alone. The local leaders popular in the gewogs could play an important role so that Aum Zam of Paro need not stare at or make fun of a DeSuup asking her to use the Druk Trace App when she comes to sell her cabbages at the farmer’s market.

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