Oman's Health Ministry's advice on using face mask

Face masks are not needed for the general public who do not have respiratory symptoms

  
Image used for illustrative purpose. Muslims wear protective face masks following the coronavirus outbreak, as they pray on street during Friday prayers in local souq, in Manama, Bahrain, February 28, 2020.

Image used for illustrative purpose. Muslims wear protective face masks following the coronavirus outbreak, as they pray on street during Friday prayers in local souq, in Manama, Bahrain, February 28, 2020.

REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Muscat: The Ministry of Health (MoH), which is ensuring the safety of the people of Oman round the clock, has announced that citizens and residents living in Oman need not wear face masks unless they are suffering from respiratory symptoms.

The Ministry also issued a guideline indicating when wearing face masks would be required. “Should you wear a mask? Yes, if you have respiratory symptoms; yes, if you are providing care to individuals with respiratory symptoms; yes, if you are a health worker and attending to individuals with respiratory symptoms. The face masks are not needed for the general public who do not have respiratory symptoms,” the MoH said.

Speaking to the Times of Oman, an official from the MoH said, "The use of masks is not required if you are not infected or are not dealing with one who is infected, whether in domestic quarantine or institutional quarantine. It should be known that washing hands with soap and water is more important than wearing masks. We advise everyone to wash their hands after sneezing and coughing, before preparing food and before eating. Please adopt healthy habits and take precautions to protect yourself and others."

Even the pharmacists working in Oman said that people are buying the wrong face masks. “People do not know which the right kind of mask is. They think that normal masks known as surgical masks can give them protection from viruses, but that is not true. For the purpose of protection from viruses including coronavirus, one needs to use an N95 mask. Patients must also take into account the right size of the mask as it should cover the mouth properly so that normal air doesn’t enter other than through the mask,” said Sam V George, Pharmacy In-charge, NMC Specialty Hospitals.

“People with asthma will have difficulties wearing this mask as they won’t be able to exhale properly, and that’s why we would suggest that they opt for masks that have a valve exhaust in front of the mask. The term N95 means the mask will provide 95 per cent efficiency or it will filter 95 per cent of particles of size 0.1 to 0.3 micron,” he said.

George added that an N95 mask can be used for any influenza not just the coronavirus. He said, “N95 has pore sides which prevents the entry of a virus. Surgical mask provides only a barrier against droplets, splashes of blood and body fluids. It does not provide as much respiratory protection as an N95 mask."

“It is extremely essential to get a mask of proper size because if it is too big microbes will find a way to enter into your body through your mouth. In some cases, viruses that are microscopic organisms smaller than bacteria need to be filtered and, therefore, one needs to have an essential knowledge about what one is using,” he explained.

He added that “people coming into the pharmacy are coming in with no knowledge and using whatever masks they get their hands on. N95 is rare in Oman and is only used when such dire conditions prevail in the country.”

Another pharmacist from Muscat Pharmacy said that the demand for face masks increased after the news of the spread of coronavirus broke.

“Demand for the masks definitely increased since the news of coronavirus spreading in different parts of the world, and now in Oman, broke. Despite being the biggest outlet in Oman, we at the Muscat Pharmacy also felt a shortage of masks due to heavy demand,” said Muhammad Shahid, Pharmacist at Muscat Pharmacy, Ruwi branch.

“We are selling both surgical masks and N95 that are highly in demand and recommended by health specialists. A pack of 50 normal surgical masks is for OMR3 and 60 baisa per mask. However, price for N95 varies as it is in short supply. In Oman it wasn’t even available earlier and only certain outlets had these masks. Currently, we have 60 branches across Oman,” he said.

The pharmacist said that initially people were buying surgical masks in bulk quantity and selling them at higher prices in their locality. “People were and are still being extremely careful and cautious while protecting themselves from the diseases and therefore, they started buying masks in bulk quantity. They would purchase 20 to 30 boxes causing an impact on our stock initially but now we have put restrictions on bulk buying as we noticed that they were selling it in their locality at higher prices. Now we are selling up to 10 masks per person. The masks are reusable until you feel that it is hard to breathe through it,” he added.

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