Will mask-wearing remain a fixture?

Will mask-wearing remain a fixture?

As the Ministry of Public Health plans to ease more Covid-19 measures in June, are we ready to take the masks off?

A poll on Line asks: "Dare you take off your mask and lead a pre-Covid-19 life?"

Respondents were asked to pick one of the three options; yes, because it is uncomfortable wearing one; yes, but only in uncrowded situations outdoors; and, no, I will continue wearing a mask.

As we have become familiar with face masks on a daily basis, there's no harm in choosing the third option.

On the contrary, for some people, the mask can be a menace, such as causing skin problems including "maskne" (acne) and triggering conditions such as dermatitis and folliculitis, not to mention sore ears.

In the long term, wearing a mask for many hours a day leads to wrinkles as researchers have studied the effect on the skin and pores and they suggest using a moisturiser to help reduce premature signs of ageing.

So side effects may be a good reason to pick the first option in the poll, which ended on May 27.

Looking back over recent years, before Covid-19, some people wore face masks to prevent inhaling air pollution, particularly PM2.5.

But we then became less concerned about Thailand's air quality and more about contracting a respiratory disease that made putting on a mask a must in order to ward off the novel coronavirus.

A WHO case study noted how outside China, Thailand was the first country to report an imported case of Covid-19 on Jan 13, 2020, as a Wuhan resident who travelled to Bangkok tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The first non-imported, locally transmitted case followed at the end of January. The number of cases increased in February and March after an indoor Thai boxing event and gatherings at bars.

The Emergency Decree was applied nationwide from March 26, and by the end of the month, the virus had spread to 60 of 77 provinces.

On March 11 of the same year, the WHO declared a pandemic as there were more than 118,000 cases of Covid-19 in 114 countries.

So since 2020, to survive the crisis, we led a new normal characterised by physical distancing and frequent hand washing, while face masks and alcohol gel hand sanitisers became everyday essentials.

Approaching mid-2022, Thailand is pretty much near an endemic status, which will occur when criteria set by the Ministry of Public Health have been met.

The country's updated face-mask guidelines will take effect from mid-June, starting in designated areas, where wearing one will not be required in open spaces.

At-risk groups and people who are indoors with a poor ventilation system and those attending larger gatherings will still need to mask up to keep the infection at bay.

Elsewhere in the region, mask-wearing became optional for outdoor settings in Singapore on March 29, while people aged six and above still have to wear a mask when indoors and on public transport.

Neighbouring Malaysia eased its mask mandate on May 1, and likewise, Indonesia recently dropped the outdoor mask rule.

This month also saw the easing of air travel as the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and European Center for Disease Prevention and Control announced that face masks need not be worn in airports and on flights in Europe, aligning with changing Covid-19 guidance on public transport.

However this will depend on each nation, and Germany, Italy and Spain are among European countries sticking to the mask rule on flights.

Long before the Covid-19 crisis, wearing a mask on a daily basis was the norm in Japan, as a protection against colds and influenza and to avoid passing germs to others when you're sick. Hay fever is another reason as it helps reduce symptoms such as sneezing and runny nose.

The mask-wearing culture is also rooted in how the Japanese are considerate of others. As masks are an everyday item, they have been developed to improve function and comfort, and are even designed as fashion items to cover the nose and mouth in style.

Here, after two whole years of battling the virus, people have made it a habit to leave the house with a mask as protection. And it will be interesting to see whether that will become a custom in Thailand too.

Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

Kanokporn Chanasongkram

Feature writer

Kanokporn Chanasongkram is a feature writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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