Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

As the usage of three-ply masks in Phuentsholing is expected to be enforced from January 2022, shopkeepers who have stocked other types of masks are worried their goods will be wasted incurring losses.

As per the Southern Covid-19 Task Force (SC19TF) notification on November 11, the sale and use of other types of masks will be stopped at the end of this year. The trade office will monitor the sale of three-ply face masks from January 1, 2022, while the police will ensure compliance with its usage by the general public at all times, the task force announced.

The announcement has come at a time when Omicron variant risks are increasing.

A shopkeeper, Namgay said that he has a stock of more than Nu 2 million (M) and worries the mandatory sale of three-ply masks will waste his stocks.

“And now, its sales will not be allowed,” he said.

Although the shopkeeper said he doesn’t have a problem with the new rule, he is dissatisfied because they were not consulted.

“The health ministry had said that masks that suffocate people more were the best,” he said. “Now they are saying three-layer masks are better. How do they define technically that it is the safest mask?”

Had the authorities consulted with the sellers, Namgay said they would have got the opportunity to understand clearly. Namgay said he supplies masks to shops in Phuentsholing.

Another shopkeeper, Tshering Dorji, said he doesn’t have much stock of other masks.

“But for whatever I have, I will incur a loss,” he said.

“If the new policy is implemented, there is nothing much we can do.”

Tshering Dorji, however, said that there are masks that are not three-layered but still effective.

A task force member Rixin Jamtsho said there are three types of masks, surgical, N95 and cloth masks.

“N95 is used by health workers who are dealing with the patients. It has a very good filtration efficiency but it is not necessary for people because it is tight and suffocating. That much quality is not required for people,” he said.

Rixin Jamtsho said surgical face masks have an efficiency of 90 to 95 percent. But there should be three layers, he added.

“Outer layer absorbs moisture or droplets. Middle and the inside layers act as filters and repellants over droplets.”

However, Rixin Jamtsho said that surgical masks cannot be used longer and it must be changed every one hour as per the health standards. Otherwise, it must be changed in three days.

He also said that cloth masks, which have 50 to 98 percent effectiveness, depending on the thickness and quality of the clothes.

“After washing four times, the filtration efficiency reduces by 20 percent,” he said.

In regards to the selling of only three-layered masks, Rixin Jamtsho said that they are not going to penalise or punish the sellers or the buyers.

“We advocated this and gave a deadline so that the buyers can sell it off faster,” he said.

“We have not reassessed the situation but most have now started selling three-ply masks.”

Meanwhile, in the town, shops are selling both three-ply and other masks.