Reduction of prices makes the masks an affordable and effective way to stay protected from COVID-19 Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: With prices of face masks at an all-time low — down to under Dh5 from a steep Dh120 or more for a pack of 50 pieces at the beginning of the pandemic — doctors say there is no excuse for not wearing a mask in public to eliminate COVID-19.

Dr Muhammed Aslam, specialist pulmonologist at International Modern Hospital, said, “Wearing a face mask is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of the virus. Reduction of prices makes the masks an affordable and effective way to keep ourselves safe from COVID-19. People are advised to use this advantage and should wear them every time,” he told Gulf News.

Doctors say face masks are one of the most effective mechanisms available to prevent transmission of the virus Image Credit: For illustrative purpose only

Aside from social distancing and frequent washing of hands, wearing a face mask is without a doubt one of the most effective mechanisms to prevent the transmission of virus, added Dr. Igbal Mubarak Sirag, Specialist — Internal Medicine at Bareen International Hospital — MBZ City, Abu Dhabi.

Fight not yet over

“From a medical standpoint, we encourage the community to remain vigilant and continue to follow the standard precautionary and preventive health measures amid the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the UAE where we see a massive turnout from the general public,” Dr. Igbal pointed out. Doctors like her are untiring in repeating the same message: “Now that face masks are very affordable, people should wear them every time, in order to protect themselves and others from the virus.”

Dr. Karthikeyan Dakshinamoorthy, Specialist, Internal Medicine at NMC Royal Hospital, DIP, Dubai, added: “Our fight with the pandemic is not yet over and we should wear masks as stipulated.”

Medical experts also say that upwards of 40 per cent of individuals that are infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, making them more likely to transmit the virus. Dr. Karthikeyan noted: “Though the  restrictions are being eased out, we are still bound to avoid crowded places, maintain social distancing, hand hygiene and most importantly wear proper face masks."

Busting the mask myth

With regard to the type of face mask to wear, Dr. Karthikeyan said: “We are flooded with a variety of masks and people are of the impression that the higher we pay for a mask, the better is the safety against coronavirus — this is just a myth.”

He explained: “The US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a simple cloth mask as sufficient in prevention of spread of COVID-19 from an infected person. Surgical masks, which provide nearly 95 per cent protection, create a physical barrier between the mouth and nose of the wearer and potential contaminants in the immediate environment.”

He also cautioned people who tend to re-use N95 masks owing to its cost. “There are high chances that they may touch the front side of mask and get infected, whereas a surgical mask is single use disposable and cloth masks are washable. Hence, I would recommend cloth mask or surgical mask to be worn by general public and reserve respirator (N95/FFP2) for health care professionals,” Dr. Karthikeyan explained.

How prices of mask went up and down

The price of face masks initially surged after the pandemic hit the UAE in March last year. At some point, it even reached to Dh120 or more for a box of 50 pieces, noted Jobilal M Vavachan, CEO of Aster Retail, Aster DM Healthcare.

He told Gulf News about some of the reasons for the exorbitant prices. “Some manufacturing facilities in China shut down because of the pandemic and there were no facilities outside that supported the demand; other countries banned the exports of COVID essentials, including masks to take care of the domestic situations; and global demand became very high.”

Hoarding became a big problem, pushing prices further up; while some businesses exported across borders, where market prices were high. Wearing a face mask became mandatory and the demand far exceeded the supply. “Then China opened up and restarted the supplies. Other countries too started manufacturing face masks, creating a production surplus that resulted in lowering of prices.” Vavachan explained.

In Dubai, Vavachan noted, the Dubai Municipality and other authorities came up with caps on margins. Inspections took place and fines were imposed. The UAE now also have many facilities manufacturing face masks and thus prices went down drastically.

‘So many choices’

Nowadays, there are many varieties and choices in design of the masks. Supply is also stable and manufacturers have taken down the price of the masks,” noted Kamal Vachani, Group Director, Al Maya Group.

Dr. Mary Jane Alvero-Al Mahdi, Group CEO of Prime Group of Companies, added it’s not only the price of face mask that has positively gone down. “The prices of sanitisers have likewise reduced due to overproduction and saturation in the market,” she noted.

Al Mahdi, whose company produced a range of environment-friendly hand sanitisers, added: “The cost of raw materials became cheaper and it is now readily available in the market. There are sanitisers made of natural ingredients which are locally-produced. Manufacturers of perfume and cleaning chemicals extended their scope to production of sanitisers too — and all these have contributed in the positive reduction of prices.”

Welcome development

Filipino expat and Dubai resident Patrick Fronda said prices of face masks and hand sanitisers are now more affordable and there is no more risk of lack of supply.

At the onset of the pandemic last year, Fronda and his friend, Lyle Daguino Ham, were featured by Gulf News for handing out free face masks to their kababayans (compatriots) in Dubai and Sharjah amid concerns of shortages at most pharmacies. Luckily, they were able to buy back then several boxes of surgical masks at Dh6 per pack and distributed them to anyone they met on the streets in Al Nahda and Al Rigga.

“Now, however, prices of face masks are a lot cheaper and there is even an oversupply in the market, so I’m confident we no longer have the threat of prices going high again,” said Fronda, adding: But the threat of the virus is still there. We should always avoid crowded places, maintain social distancing, observe proper hand hygiene and wear masks at all times. Let’s fight united and win this war against COVID-19.”

How to choose the right face mask

Disposable face masks have exploded across the market and stocks are up but the public should be aware that not all of these masks offer equal protection. Before buying a box of disposable face masks, we should keep in mind what health experts recommend:

Bust the price myth. More expensive disposable face masks don’t guarantee better protection.

Ensure that you grab the right one for your specific needs. Non-medical masks come in different layer options. Get one that is at least two-ply but three-ply is ideal.

Check the inner lining and antibacterial properties.

Look for an adjustable nose piece. This clip or wire will help keep particles in when you breathe, cough or sneeze.

Pick one that fits comfortably to your nose, mouth and chin. If it slips, it’s not the right mask for you.