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Countering coronavirus: Use the three-ply surgical mask, says infectious disease expert

KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 30): At the height of the pesky haze last year, many Malaysians discovered that the N95 face mask was superior to the three-ply and single-ply masks to keep out the toxic air.

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), masks have become valuable objects again but a medical expert said that the N95 is now not the go to mask.

“The N95 masks are only useful if the virus is airborne. But the N95 needs to fit the facial contours of the wearer and be worn properly.

“Because of the technical challenges, it is not necessary at this stage,” Dr Benedict Sim from Sungai Buloh Hospital told The Malaysian Insight during a media briefing at the Health Ministry in Putrajaya today.

It has been reported that the novel coronavirus is spread via droplets. And the best in the current situation is the three-ply surgical mask.

“The choice for the public is the three-ply surgical mask (pictured). But it cannot be used throughout the day as it will also get moist and contaminated. You need to change it every few hours,” Dr Sim explained to the news portal.

“The single-ply doesn’t help to protect against germs because it gets moist very quickly and doesn’t have any filters,” he added.

Should one put on a mask all day if one is out and about? Dr Sim said there is no real need to use face masks for “day-to-day routines although that can change depending on how the outbreak continues”.

“There are no local human-to-human transmission among Malaysians as yet. That is why we are not recommending the population to use the masks routinely.

“This, however, can change as the outbreak progresses,” he told the news portal.

“At the moment, the advice is only necessary if you are visiting China, which is the epicentre of the outbreak,” he added.

Bernama reported on Tuesday that the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry will closely monitor and take necessary action to ensure sufficient supply of face masks in the market to help keep the novel coronavirus infection in check.

Its minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (pictured) said this is currently the ministry's top priority.

"We will closely monitor the issue and then deal with the importers (to increase import) as well as ask local manufacturers to increase output (to meet the demand),” Saifuddin said.

In Singapore, the Straits Times reported that online mall Qoo10 listed an advertisement in Singapore selling 30 "anti-coronavirus" masks for S$10,000 (about RM30,000) on Jan 29, but the listing has since been taken down.

According to the report, the listing claimed that the masks were also "anti-pneumonia" and "anti-haze" and was advertised for sale at S$10,000 from Jan 27 to 29 before it was removed.

"We do not condone and will not tolerate merchants who escalate prices to unreasonable levels in an attempt to profit off the general public's worry and panic, or even as a joke," Qoo10 general manager Sam Too told the Singapore-based daily.

"Merchants found guilty of such behaviour may be temporarily suspended as part of our investigation process," Too clarified.

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