Sunday, May 22, 2022

Non-medical face masks don’t need Sirim approval, say health experts

They voice doubt over whether there is any recognised industry standard for masks in that category to begin with.

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Health experts have questioned the government’s decision to require manufacturers and importers of non-medical face masks to apply for MS Sirim certification before the products are sold on the local market.

Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they queried the purpose of mandating approval from Sirim, an agency under the purview of the science, technology and innovation ministry, after more than two years of dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

They also said that non-medical face masks do not require Sirim certification, voicing doubt over whether there is any recognised industry standard for masks in that category to begin with.

Dr Sanjey Rampal of Universiti Malaya said so far, there had only been guidance on how to wear face masks more effectively, adding that even this was not consistent.

He also said there was still no strong evidence on the effectiveness of face masks in general in reducing the current spread of Covid-19.

“We don’t need Sirim certification for non-medical face masks,” he said, adding that face masks were not a cost effective option during the pandemic phase.

The domestic trade and consumer affairs ministry said on April 7 that effective Jan 1 next year, non-medical face masks would require Sirim certification before they can be sold in the market.

It said companies that fail to comply with the directive could be fined up to RM200,000 for a first offence, and up to RM500,000 for subsequent offences.

Manufacturers and importers meanwhile can be fined up to RM100,000, jailed up to three years or both for a first offence.

Many had questioned the decision, asking if it would result in certain quarters having a monopoly over the sale of non-medical face masks.

M Mohan, director of healthcare provider Click2Health, said this was a legitimate concern given that the issue of industry monopolies was becoming more serious.

For the sale of face masks, he said, it was the large number of manufacturers that made it difficult for one or two companies to monopolise the market.

“The production cost is not high, which allows the continued survival of many entrepreneurs and companies,” he added.

He theorised that the government had made the decision as no one had expected the pandemic to continue until today.

“It looks like the pandemic will be around for a long time more, and the sale of face masks has become a big business,” he said.

“More and more people are becoming involved in the production of face masks. Sirim certification could ensure that consumers do not end up buying face masks of poor quality.”

The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia however questioned the move as well, pointing out that imported medication and surgical supplies do not require approval by Sirim.

“If someone in Malaysia can produce, market and sell their own products without needing Sirim approval, and buyers can accept these in terms of face value, why the need for a Sirim certificate?” its president Dr Steven Chow asked.

Sanjey meanwhile said that the increasing evidence showing the airborne spread of Covid-19 should encourage a change in strategy towards better ventilation.

He said authorities should also recommend the use of face masks with higher filtration rates in high-risk areas.

“But more filtration layers will make it difficult to breathe, so these should be used only for short periods of time,” he said.

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