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Senior Minister: Masks Are Not Compulsory In Schools Except For Those Who Show Symptoms

"Schools only need to provide soap or hand sanitiser and conduct screening for symptoms and body temperature," Ismail Sabri said to clarify whether schools are required to provide face masks for all students and staff.

Cover image via Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali/New Straits Times & Berita Harian

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a remark from the Health director-general.

Students and teachers are not required to wear face masks during school hours as they are not compulsory, according to Ismail Sabri, who is one of the four Senior Ministers in the current administration

The Senior Minister said this in a statement on Friday, 17 July, while he was clarifying issue about whether schools are required to provide face masks for all students and staff.

New Straits Times reported Ismail Sabri saying that it is not compulsory for students or teachers to put on a mask during school hours and that the school administrators are only required to provide face masks if there are students or staff who showed symptoms of the novel coronavirus during the schooling session.

Schools only need to provide soap or hand sanitiser and conduct screening for symptoms and body temperature.
Ismail Sabri

On 16 July, the minister, however, had said that schools are responsible for providing personal protective equipment such as face masks and hand sanitisers to students and teachers.

He reasoned that teachers should not be spending their own money to purchase these items as funds have been allocated by the Ministry of Education (MOE) to every school for the required items.

"When we ask schools to provide hand sanitisers, conduct temperature screening, and so forth, it is the school that must ensure that the necessary tools are available, not the teachers," he was quoted as saying during a press conference on the development of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO).

"I hope the schools concerned will provide (the equipment) required by their teachers and students, not only when they enter the school but also within the school compounds such as at the canteen."

A concern for parents

The fact that the government has not made it compulsory for students and teachers to wear face masks could be a matter of concern among parents as schools have reopened while the virus is still among us.

"We have school-going family members and I cannot describe how distressing this piece of news is," said a parent, adding that ministers are giving out mixed messages regarding masks and public health safety.

Daily COVID-19 cases in the country have been hovering around two-digit count since June.

Malaysia recorded 18 new cases on Friday and four new clusters were detected. Of the new cases, 10 were recorded in Sarawak, where it is said to be the beginning of the second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Another issue among parents is about students or teachers who show symptoms as anyone with symptoms shouldn't be attending schools

According to Education Minister Dr Radzi Jidin, if a student shows any symptoms, they will be placed in a designated isolation room, while teachers would contact their parents to take them home.

This guideline, however, doesn't seem to consider that there could be asymptomatic students as well, who without a face mask, could potentially risk infecting their peers during school hours.

Additionally, the Senior Minister's statement comes amidst the continuous reminder to wear masks from the Ministry of Health (MOH)

In fact, MOH tweeted just yesterday to remind everyone to wear a mask for protection.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends wearing masks for infected individuals to prevent onward transmission and also for those who are healthy for protection.

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has also stated that MOH strongly recommends and encourages the use of face masks in public places that are crowded.

Earlier today, 18 July, the Health D-G said that the reason the ministry has not made mask mandatory or compulsory as those failing to do so can be fined RM1,000 and charged in Court.

He was replying to Dr Ong Kian Ming, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Bangi, who raised the concern of parents over the policy that it is not compulsory for students to wear masks in schools.

Here's a guideline on the use of non-medical fabric face masks:

Meanwhile, a paediatrician has expressed concern about the disruption of routine vaccination services for Malaysian children: