Reintroduction of school mask mandates: ministers not doing their homework before making decisions

Malaysia needs forward thinking and wise ministerial decision makers


The minister of health Dr Zaliha Mustafa is planning an urgent inter-ministerial meeting with the education minister Fadhlina Sidek to reintroduce facemask mandates in schools again, before schools reopen on May 2.

The proposed return of mask mandates to schools is in response to the resurgence of Covid-19 XBB1.16 variant. Dr Zaliha told the media, “This is important because we are worried that students will be infected after many moved around due to the Hari Raya holidays, which could cause a Covid-19 outbreak in schools”.

Zaliha also confirmed the ministry is considering a recommendation for the use of facemasks in general public areas, soon.

However, there is still no clear evidence available from any research undertaken during the pandemic that facemasks actually had any efficacy in preventing Covid-19 infections.

A recent Cochrane Review on the use of masks during pandemics, indicated facemasks were insufficient to prevent virus spread. The meta-study covering 610,872 participants found that wearing masks verses no masks to prevent the spread of viral respiratory illness, probably made no or little difference to the outcome of influenza/Covid-19 illness, compared to wearing no masks.

The wearing of masks had a number of detrimental effects on children’s health, due to the rebreathing of residual carbon dioxide within the masks, and leads to the impairment of childhood learning.

The study found that focusing upon hand hygiene by washing hands or sanitizing regularly gave a 14 percent relative reduction of acquiring respiratory illness.

These views were reflected in the advice given to Dr Zaliha by the president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai. Dr Muruga said it was important for children to wash and sanitize their hands regularly, rather than wear masks. Consequently, the ministers should not reimpose a mask mandate in schools. Only those children with symptoms of respiratory disease should wear masks.

Dr Muruga went on to suggest to parents that its important to encourage their children to keep themselves healthy. A strong immune system was the body’s natural protection against illness. Vaccination, wearing of masks, and sanitizing hands, were not the only important components in managing Covid-19, said Dr Muruga.