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Will people go mask-off outdoors when new COVID-19 rules kick in on Tuesday?

More than 75 per cent of respondents in a CNA poll are reluctant to do so.

Will people go mask-off outdoors when new COVID-19 rules kick in on Tuesday?

People wearing face masks cross the road in Tampines in Singapore on Feb 25, 2022. (Photo: CNA/Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: A raft of COVID-19 measures will be relaxed on Tuesday (Mar 29), including one that will make it optional to wear a mask outdoors. But it appears not everyone is raring to rip off that face covering that has become one of the most visible markers of the pandemic.

According to an informal Telegram poll by CNA on Friday, about 2,500 people - or 24 per cent of respondents - said they will no longer wear a mask outdoors.

For the remaining 76 per cent, or 7,900 respondents, the mask stays on.

“IT’S SO CUMBERSOME”

Those from this group cited reasons such as inconvenience, or a desire to remain cautious.

Ms Winnie Low, a 72-year-old insurance agent, said: “You go in and out, you're taking off and putting on the mask … It’s so cumbersome.”

She added that touching one’s mask so often may also introduce “more germs”.

Mr Nabil Dzikri, an 18-year-old student, added: “I wouldn’t be used to it. We’ve been wearing the mask for like two years, it’s like a habit already.”

Similarly, Ms Abigail Yeo, 28, added: “I don't quite mind the mask … But also I do feel like the masks really protect us.

“So in case someone sneezes when walking by, I'll have an extra layer of protection.”

Mr Hajee, a 37-year-old engineer, told CNA he would be more comfortable removing his mask when cases come down further. Singapore reported 4,848 new infections on Sunday. 

“Maybe I’ll take two to three months (to see how things go) … I’ll just continue wearing it for now.”

An 85-year-old retiree, Mr Wong, also said: “The rules just started, so everything is still a bit uncertain. You don’t know what’s still out there.”

Echoing those views was Ms Mabel, a 56-year-old caregiver for special needs children. “There is no guarantee (you won’t get it). The virus is still there.”

She said a friend recently died after contracting COVID-19, which is why being vigilant remains close to her heart.

LOOKING FORWARD TO GOING MASK-FREE

Meanwhile, 56-year-old Mr Gazzali, who works in a school, said he will go mask-free outdoors, such as when walking from his house to the bus stop, because there is a low risk of transmission.

Another respondent, Mr Drew, 31, said: “It's just nice to be able to live somewhat ‘normally’ again, to be unencumbered by COVID restrictions, and also it's just more physically comfortable."

Ms Clara Tan, 28, agreed, especially because sweating under one’s mask can be uncomfortable. 

She added: “It should be okay as most people, including me, having already been vaccinated, so the risk should be lower.”

Ms Nurul Liyana Yeo, a 31-year-old digital communications specialist, also said: “The (case) numbers are looking good, I'm not immunocompromised and neither are my family members.

“I'll still take necessary precautions if we're sick, but if we're healthy, the statistics have shown that we can definitely treat (COVID-19 as) endemic.”

IT DEPENDS …

For others, the answer is not so clear-cut. Choosing to go mask-free outdoors may depend on factors such as the activity one is doing, crowd levels and the weather.

Ms Chia, a 47-year-old human resources and administrative executive said: “If I'm going to be exercising, definitely I will go mask-off.

"But generally speaking, I will keep my mask on if it’s not so humid, because I don't want to infect others.”

Mr Low, a 55-year-old security guard, added: “If it is crowded, I probably wouldn't because it’s riskier.” Student Lincoln Lim, 24, echoed the sentiment. “It depends where I am. If I’m somewhere with no crowds, it’s fine. But if it's crowded, then you're not used to it ... it feels weird."

NATURAL TO SEE VARYING DEGREES OF READINESS

With any change, it is natural to have “early uptakers”, some who want to wait, and some who may not change, said Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s Division of Infectious Diseases.

While there are "cultural factors", in time, fewer people will wear masks outside, he said. “But after two years, it will feel strange. No doubt about that!”

Sociology professor Paulin Tay Straughan from the Singapore Management University reiterated that the rule changes, including being able to meet in bigger groups, will bring back some “normalcy”.

But there will be two groups: Those who remain cautious, and those who will see going mask-free as an expression of finally being able to move on to the next stage of the pandemic.

“(Because of all the restrictions over the past two years,) there’s a certain sense of restlessness … people are tired, so this desire to say we are out of the woods may be a lot stronger than I anticipate,” said Prof Straughan.

“Those who are doing this (going mask-free outdoors) because they need to show themselves there is hope, and hope has arrived - that is very interesting … Tomorrow (Tuesday) may be, for some, a very important day.”

WHAT’S THE RISK?

Professor Fisher added that the risk of transmission is indeed lower in outdoor settings. The severity of illness is also “low” with Omicron and high immunity levels, he said.

But if an infected person coughs on you outside, then “transmission is likely”.

This is why social distancing, cough etiquette and self-isolation if one is symptomatic “will remain as expectations, especially as we remove mask mandates”, he said.

Source: CNA/cl(ac)
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