Masks optional indoors in Malaysia, except on public transport and in medical facilities

Since May, face masks were required only indoors and on public transport in Malaysia. PHOTO: THE BUSINESS TIMES

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has dropped its mask mandate for indoor settings, except for people on public transport and in medical facilities, as well as those who have tested positive for Covid-19.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Wednesday that the government will leave it to the owners of premises to decide whether they will do away with mask wearing.

“If they make the decision to impose it, then people must abide (by it) and they can bar those who refuse from entering,” he said.

While the use of mask in many indoor settings is now optional, Mr Khairy still encouraged the public to continue wearing it, given its proven efficacy in breaking transmission.

Since May, Malaysia has lifted the mask mandate for outdoor settings as it continues to transit into the endemic phase of living with the virus.

With a vaccination rate of 84.2 per cent and nearly half the population having taken the booster shot, daily deaths from the coronavirus have slowed to a seven-day average of just five, with only 2,067 infections reported on Tuesday.

Only a fifth of hospital beds and intensive care wards reserved for Covid-19 patients are currently being utilised.

The move mirrors protocols already in place in Singapore and Thailand, where many are still wearing masks of their own volition.

Nonetheless, Mr Khairy stressed that the mask mandate could return if the Covid-19 situation worsens.

“We don’t know what direction the mutations will go. There is a possibility it could become more dangerous,” he said.

“If we find in a few months or a year that variants do not cause serious complications, then we can enter fully into an endemic phase.”

The Health Ministry listed buses, airplanes, trains, school and worker vans, taxis as well as e-hailing services as forms of public transport that still require masking up.

Masks are also mandatory in health facilities such as hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and hemodialysis centres.

The ministry added that it “strongly encouraged” face masks in crowded areas such as markets, stadiums, shopping malls and places of worship.

It also recommended that those with symptoms such as fever, cough or flu, as well as high-risk individuals or those participating in activities with high-risk individuals keep their masks on.

Meanwhile, vaccinations will continue for high-risk groups such as immunocompromised children or those with comorbidities, the elderly, health workers as well as pregnant or nursing mothers.

Mr Khairy added that the government is looking at procuring vaccines specifically targeted at new variants such as Omicron, but would decide based on transmission trends and whether to offer the shots to the general public or only high-risk individuals.

“Now we are looking at a more targeted vaccination programme. But we have not decided whether to have a mass vaccination campaign or certain groups,” he said.

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