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People at a local supermarket in Al Qusais, Dubai. Image Credit: Ahmed Ramzan, Gulf News

Dubai: Confusion reigns on the need to wear a face mask in the UAE with some stores even refusing shoppers entry if they don’t wear one.

Initial guidelines from the UAE Attorney General stated a fine of Dh1,000 if you fail to wear a face mask indoors, but this was quickly followed up with a resolution and the clause to clarify that, as per the law, this only applies to “those who are suffering from chronic disease, have cold or flu like symptoms or fail to maintain social distancing.”

Legally however, private properties like supermarkets could theoretically be allowed to deny people entry for whatever reason, and this is where a grey area has cropped up along with misinterpretation of the guidelines.

Earlier this week a local chain of stores sent out a circular saying customers must wear a mask in store or face a Dh1,000 fine, but this was immediately rendered unnecessary by authorities unless the person had symptoms, chronic disease or failed to maintain social distancing.   

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and Centre for Disease Control (CDC) have clearly said that facial masks should only be worn by people who are suffering from a cough and cold, caring for a COVID-19 patient, or working in hospitals.

But even at government offices the rule is unclear. A Gulf News reader rang a government office on Wednesday to clarify whether he had to wear a mask to his local supermarket and they clearly said he did.

“I have been keeping myself abreast of all rules and regulations and had understood from the information available that masks were to be worn by people who were sick,” said the reader, who contacted Gulf News on the condition of anonymity.

“Besides in some cases outlets of the same supermarket chain were inconsistent with the rules where one outlet allowed me to shop while I was turned away from another branch,” he added.

Determined to get to the bottom of what was the right thing to do, the resident made several calls and was directed by the Ministry of Health to speak to Dubai Health Authority (DHA) who in turn asked him to call the Pubic Prosecution office.

“At the public prosecution office I was clearly told that it was mandatory for everyone to wear masks while visiting a confined space like a supermarket or any other spot in the community,” he claimed.

Do masks really help?

Face masks prevent large droplets of bodily fluids that may contain viruses or other germs from escaping through the the nose and mouth and causing spread of infection. it also protets from sudden splash and spray of saliva if a person sneezes, coughs or talks loudly. International studies have indicated that in case of contagious diseses the three things that worked were vaccinations, wearing face masks and practising proper personal hygiene that reduced the incidence of spread.

There are two things that masks really do, said Dr Sandip Pargi, consultant Pulmonologist at Aster Mankhool Hospital, Dubai, “The basic surgical mask should be worn by people who are sick and have cough and cold as it prevents transmission of droplets of moisture and fluids. The N-95 masks which are made of polypropelene are less porous and have a tighter fit around the face thereby protecting people from contracting any virus and are mandatorily worn by health care professionals along with other Personal Protection Equipemnt (PPE) as they work in closed proximity to sick people including confirmed and suspect Covid 19 patients. But people who are not sick need not wear masks or if they do wear it they must wear it in combination with practising all other hygiene protocols such as hand sanitising, and keeping a distance of 1 to 1.5 metre from another person in an encolosed space.”

Dr Abner Rivas Abejo, Specialist Internal Medicine at the Medeor Hospital, Dubai added, “As per CDC and WHO guidelines, the masks are to be work by those who are really sick or those who are in close proximity to the sick as there is a shortage of masks worldwide. Masks must be worn properly so that they are a right fit over the nose and the mouth, they must not be frequently adjusted as that would contaiminate one’s hands, and must be changed if they become too damp.”

However, both doctors agreed that it was important to abide by the law of the land. “If the health authorities, police and prosecution are being cautious and going a step ahead in ensuring that people are safe in enclosed spaces and wear masks, we all must comply by this,” said Dr Abejo

Proper disposal

Dr Pargi added that as part of the use of the mask it was also important for people to know how to dispose masks which fall into the category of hazardous waste. “Masks cannot be used for more than 8 hours and while removing it, one must be careful that it does not touch any surface and is disposed in a bag and not lying open in the garbage at home. Also people must thorougly wash their hands and sanitse them after they have handled a used mask and not touch the face or any other surfaces. In hospitals we follow strict rules for segregation and disposal of hazardous waste.”