Masks a must while riding public transport for top infectious diseases expert

When there are lots of people in a small space, it's a risk. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - One of the world's top infectious diseases experts says he will continue to wear masks in planes, buses and the Tube, London's subway system, in the foreseeable future.

Sir Peter Piot, 73, wants to prevent another bout of Covid-19 infection, which had him laid low for about five months, when he even had to make four to five stops on the way to his bedroom on the third floor of his home in London.

Professor Piot, who is the special adviser on Covid-19 to the president of the European Union and a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said: "In a plane, I'd be uncomfortable not wearing a mask. When you have lots of people in a small space, that's not rocket science. It's a risk."

He was infected with Covid-19 near the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, before vaccines were available.

He ended up in hospital for eight days, and required oxygen supplementation.

But his suffering did not end there.

The former director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he remains a professor, had long Covid for the next five months.

"I live in an old Georgian house in London. My bedroom is on the third floor. I used to run up to my bedroom. I was very fit. I had no underlying medical conditions. I used to run 4km to 5km every morning."

But following his infection, he said: "I needed four or five breaks to get to my bedroom. I go up some stairs, then I stop for breath. I had heart and lung complications."

He has since fully recovered, and is running again.

The Belgian-British microbiologist, best known for his research into Ebola and Aids, said he was lucky to have recovered fully after five months. For some people, it can drag on.

He said: "Long Covid is something we have underestimated. It can happen even after a fairly mild infection, and to young people."

His personal traumatic experience is one reason he is supportive of wearing masks in enclosed spaces such as public transport.

Sir Peter Piot was infected with Covid-19 near the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, before vaccines were available. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

The United States stopped enforcing masks on planes earlier this week after a federal judge ruled the directive to wear masks unlawful.

Prof Piot said the judge's ruling is not only absurd, but also very irresponsible.

He has been infected and vaccinated, a combination that gives the highest protection. But no one knows how long that protection will last.

So while he hopes that one day, masks will no longer be necessary, "in the foreseeable future, I will continue to wear a mask".

As a visiting professor at NUS, Prof Piot used to come to Singapore about three times a year, but with the pandemic, his last trip here was in February 2020.

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