KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's dropping of its face mask mandate with immediate effect last Wednesday has been widely welcomed, particularly by businesses hoping that the rule relaxation will entice crowds back to retail spaces, sports centres and dining establishments.
Masks are no longer compulsory indoors except on public transport and at healthcare facilities, but people are encouraged to continue masking up.
Premises owners can choose to impose the usage of face masks in their premises, the authorities said.
Most people at the shopping malls and recreational centres The Straits Times visited this week in Klang Valley opted to keep their masks on.
Sports centre owner Irwan Mazlan said: "Previously, we received a lot of feedback saying it's impossible to keep their masks on at our premises, especially right after exercising or playing games. So when the government announced this a week ago, we truly welcome it."
Mr Fikri Fazri, manager of a popular steakhouse restaurant outlet, said: "We are aware of how many are tired of masking up. So we won't impose anything on anyone who doesn't feel like wearing one.
"This is also one of our ways to increase our sales. We're doing whatever it takes to bounce back from the pandemic. So far we're seeing a 12 per cent increase a week after putting up a sign that says we welcome everyone."
Acknowledging that some are still wary, restaurant manager K. Geetha said her Thai food establishment in Petaling Jaya has decided to cater to both groups so as to not discriminate against anyone.
"We have different sections for both groups, and since it's optional to wear a face mask, we have decided to sanitise more often than before (the implementation). We used to sanitise every four to six hours but now, it's every two hours. If we're not too busy, we'll do more, especially in the section where face masks are not required," she said.
The mask mandate for outdoor settings was lifted in May as Malaysia transited into the endemic phase of living with Covid-19. The latest easing of mask rules mirrors protocols already in place in Singapore and Thailand, where many are still wearing masks of their own volition.
In one mall, shopper Anita Zachariah said the lifting of the mask mandate was "a fair move".
"Although I'm an advocate for the use of face masks, I also miss being free of it. As long as it's no longer an offence to not wear one, I don't see it as an issue. I'm sure the experts know what they're doing," said the kindergarten teacher, 29.
"Also, I have sensitive skin so it's always nice to know that I have the option of taking it off when I feel the need to while walking around in an enclosed space," she added.
But not everyone is comfortable with the idea of going maskless.
At a shopping mall in Subang Jaya, 31-year-old real estate executive Rashitah Abdullah kept her mask on.
"I contracted Covid-19 earlier this year from a friend who didn't take wearing face masks and self-testing seriously, which is why I'm a bit wary," she said.
"As it is, it's already hard enough to know who has Covid-19, and now everyone can just walk around without a face mask on.
"I truly hope this isn't a mistake."