While glad Putrajaya easing up on face mask policy, Malaysians say will still wear it willingly when necessary

·6-min read
Ahmad Hanif Aziz, 44, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview, April 29, 2022. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Ahmad Hanif Aziz, 44, speaks to Malay Mail during an interview, April 29, 2022. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

KUALA LUMPUR, May 1 — Wearing face masks outdoors in Malaysia is now optional starting today.

And many Malaysians whom Malay Mail spoke with could not be happier with the government’s decision.

“Good riddance!” Arul Dass exclaimed under the glaring morning sun outside the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Wet Market here while watching patrons scan, enter and leave in droves.

“Wearing these masks has been a bane for me, it gets hot and stuffy, makes it hard for me to breathe — especially working under the hot sun,” the 53-year-old security guard said.

Dass, who does not look a bit over 50, said that he understood the reason behind wearing the masks everywhere previously.

He noted that with the country now moving towards endemicity, the government’s move to ease up on the face mask mandate in the outdoors is a good one.

“For people like me, who spend most of their time working outdoors, having the choice whether to put on my masks or not is a blessing. It may sound a bit reckless, and I am still very scared of Covid-19, but at least I can work more comfortably.

“I just have to be wary and keep an eye out for my health. If I see that the crowd entering the pasar is getting bigger, I’ll automatically put on my masks, but on slower days, there’s no need,” he told Malay Mail.

Looking out for oneself, maintaining the good habits such as washing of hands, maintaining social distancing and most importantly — wearing a mask when necessary — seems to be a common view held by people on the street in the Klang Valley whom this reporter approached last week after Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s announcement.

Many of them welcomed the revised mask mandate, but also said they would still err on the side of caution.

Ahmad Hanif Aziz told Malay Mail that the government had done its duty to keep its citizens safe during the pandemic but added that it was about time the Covid-19 protocols were revised.

“It’s about time, because we see from other countries — they’ve taken off their masks for quite some time already. It’s good for us too, so we can move forward with our lives.

“I believe the government has done its part in keeping the rakyat safe for as long as they did, but now it is up to us to contain ourselves from the Covid-19 virus,” the 44-year-old said.

The audio visual products salesman admitted to hating wearing face masks the past two years and added that he had met others who despised the mandate just as much.

He said he is glad that the government has decided to trust its people to take charge of their own health and safety.

“Off and on, we see this kind of ‘normal’ behaviour, like wearing masks has become a norm, and we see the opposite, where they take off their masks every chance they get.

“It’s up to them now,” he said, referring to regular Malaysians, adding that “mostly everyone has been vaccinated, so we can also rely on our antibodies to help us against Covid”.

Steven Tiu speaks to Malay Mail during an interview, April 29, 2022. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Steven Tiu speaks to Malay Mail during an interview, April 29, 2022. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Steven Tiu, a fishmonger who has been plying his trade at the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Wet Market for the past 12 years, echoed Hanif.

He said he has observed all manner of people at the market while chopping up and cleaning fish from his stall, and shared that there is always one person who will kick up a fuss at the mask mandate in public.

“You will always find someone who causes an issue here because they take the masks off. Security will have to get involved, sometimes even shouting takes place,” he said, with Arul snickering from behind.

“You tell them!” Arul told Tiu, prompting open laughter from those around us.

Asked if he would still wear masks outdoors, Tiu said yes, definitely as he is still afraid of contracting Covid-19.

“Without a question. I’m still very scared of Covid-19. We don’t know if or when another deadly variant will come,” said the 33-year-old, as he lopped the head off a grouper fish before removing its innards.

Like Hanif, Tiu said he is happy that the government is giving people some control over their own lives again as far as Covid-19 is concerned.

He noted that a sufficient percentage of the population has been double-vaccinated and boosted against the infectious coronavirus.

“I know a lot of people who put their lives on hold because of the pandemic. So maybe with this revision of the Covid-19 SOPs, they can take it as a sign that we are finally beating Covid, and pick themselves up and move forward,” he sighed.

“But we must still be very careful!” he added, gesticulating with his cleaver held high to drive home his point.

Retiree Sudha Devi said the state cannot control every single aspect of people’s health and that everyone has a responsibility to take care of themselves.

The 62-year-old is also an optimist.

“I think Malaysians are a responsible bunch. They wouldn’t be too frivolous and bring risks onto their health.

“It has come to a time that we do have to ease these SOPs. I think that the government has put a lot of thought into it and we are at a stage where the government feels — with the cases going down — we have to go on with life without being controlled by all sorts of SOPs,” she told Malay Mail.

Retiree Sudha Devi speaks to Malay Mail during an interview, April 29, 2022. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Retiree Sudha Devi speaks to Malay Mail during an interview, April 29, 2022. ― Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

When asked her view of countries that have seen Covid-19 infections jump after rolling back their SOPs, Sudha said that it would be unsustainable to continue life constantly fearing the unknown.

“Life has to go on, economic activity has to go on. If it comes to a stage where there is another variant of Covid-19 then you do what is necessary when the time comes.

“But you cannot keep on locking down and living a restricted life with the fear that something bad is going to happen or the numbers will go back up. Life has to go on,” she said.

On April 27, Khairy announced that wearing masks is now optional for those who are outdoors, but still mandatory for those who are indoors and in public transportation, including e-hailing services.

He, however, said that the ministry encourages the practice of wearing face masks as it helps curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus, especially for those who are high-risk such as the elderly and children who are unvaccinated.

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