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The use of face masks is still mandated in several public places. Image Credit: Photo Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Facemasks have become an everyday accessory ever since COVID-19 struck. But with the relaxation of rules on their use today, UAE residents have heaved a collective sigh of relief.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention and the National Emergency and Crisis Management Authority (NCEMA) have allowed the removal of facemask in some places while adhering to the rule of maintaining a distance of two metres. Residents can now remove masks in exercise areas, on the beach, in open areas of swimming pools, in vehicles if they are riding family members, is they are sitting alone in a closed room, going for personal grooming services at the salon ot at medical centres to avail treatment or diagnostic screening.

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All through the pandemic, the mask along with other protocols of social distancing and hand santisation played a critical role in slowing down transmission rates of COVID-19. It will continue to do so, say health experts.

Dr J.M. Gauer, CEO, RAK Hospital, welcomed the government’s informed decision. “In view of the drastic decline of COVID-19 cases in the UAE, it seems logical to loosen up a bit and drop the obligation to wear the mask under some circumstances. Let us however not forget that the drop in the cases is a direct consequence of the rigorous measures adopted by the UAE authorities along with the vaccination of over 90 per cent of the UAE residents. “

Dr J.M. Gauer

Dr Gauer cautioned people to remain vigilant and responsible. “The pandemic is definitely not over globally and people must remember this,” he said.

Prior to 2020, other than health care, hospitality and beauty salon professionals, no one in the general healthy public had ever donned the facemask.

How facemasks came to be used amid COVID-19

Initially, in the first three or four months of the pandemic (from January to May 2020), the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated there was no need for facial masks. Later, it became evident that droplets of moisture and saliva carried the Sars COV2 virus some distance and poor ventilation too played a role in the spread of the disease. By June 2020, the WHO mandated the wearing of a facial mask by one and all and issued an advisory stating that face masks had an important role to play in the curbing the transmission of COVID-19.

While doctors and health personnel were wearing the full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) along with N-95 surgical mask which completely sealed off their face while attending to patients, the general public was advised to wear three-layered disposable or fabric masks. It was recommended that the inside layer of the mask be made of a hydrophilic (water absorbent) material that could absorb an individual’s saliva or moisture droplets in the inner layer. A middle layer, it was recommended, should be of polypropylene or non-woven material, which could block the saliva or moisture from the inner fabric to travel outwards on the external layer. The outer layer of the mask was to be made of a water or liquid resistant material that could stop any outer droplets of moisture to be absorbed into the fabric.

In the beginning when vaccines were in the research and development stage, it was social distancing, hand santisation and wearing of the mask that played a crucial role in curbing the rate of community transmission. In the UAE, residents followed the mask protocol very rigidly. Prior to the vaccination drive which was initiated in December 2020, the mask was hailed the as the best line of defence in fighting COVID-19 transmission.

It was an effective strategy, as there is clinical evidence that indicates when people who were careless about this protocol in UAE and anywhere else in the world, contracted the virus. In case of people who came in contact with the virus through contaminated items, wearing a mask and generally following other protocols helped them remain asymptomatic or have milder symptoms with quick recovery. Wearing a mask clearly proved effective in decreasing the viral load or strong exposure to the virus said virologists.

Now, as the rate of infection is waning, UAE residents feel relieved that they can take off their masks in some controlled situations.

Dr Nayzak Raoof, Chief Medical Officer, Burjeel Hospital, hailed the decision as confidence-inspiring and bringing a sense of relief to the people at large.

He said, “It has been over 18 months since facemasks have become an integral part of our lives. The announcement reflects the confidence of the UAE authorities. We have tackled the pandemic and contained the virus, which has happened due to the observance of the strict protocols and the mass vaccination drive."

Dr Nayzak Raoof,

"The announcement sends a positive message to the community but people must not lower their guards and must continue to be responsible and cautious while interacting with people,” he said.

When you must wear a mask

• In public transport

• In closed spaces where there is lack of adequate ventilation and there is no room for maintaining two meter social distance

• If you are interacting with people in close proximity, who are not family

• At bus stops or cash counters where you may be in close proximity with others

Places where you can be without a mask while adhering to a social distancing of two meters

• At the beach and public areas

• In open spaces of swimming pools

• At the gym

• In clinics and diagnostic centres during treatments or tests

• In beauty salons or men’s salon while undergoing a procedure