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Opinion and Editorial

KT Special: Mask up for your safety, not for the fear of getting fined

Sahim Salim/Dubai
Filed on September 8, 2020
Mask, safety, #StayHome, Covid-19 cases

(Photo: AFP)

The fear of another lockdown was very real; if only the fear was about a second wave of infections!

Remember those emergency alerts you used to receive on the phone not too long ago, reminding you to #StayHome? The all-caps message that went 'WE WOULD LIKE TO INFORM YOU THAT THE NATIONAL STERILISATION PROGRAMME IS FROM ...' With the number of Covid-19 cases surging in the last few weeks, a government-owned news broadcaster recently used the message to urge residents to follow due precautionary measures. They shared a video of the message, complete with the accompanying emergency alert tone - the one that sounds like a police siren and lasts several seconds. It had a simple caption: 'Follow the rules to stay safe from Covid-19 so that we don't receive this message again'.

A screenshot of the post went viral on WhatsApp, with several residents hitting the forward button in panic, assuming that the National Sterilisation Programme was back. When a friend forwarded the message asking if it was true that movement restrictions were being introduced again, I told him the social media post was intended to jolt residents into being responsible. "A government channel posted it, surely there must be an official plan," he declared.

The fear of another lockdown was very real; if only the fear was about a second wave of infections!
Officials had called the recent increase in cases "alarming". The National Crisis and Emergency Management Authority (NCEMA) had warned that movement restrictions could be imposed in areas that were seeing a high number of cases.

The authorities' call for caution is understandable. The UAE's robust testing and tracing strategy had helped bring down the daily Covid cases to between 200 and 400. On three days last month, positive cases had dipped to less than 200. However, over the past week, the numbers have soared to over 600, with September 2 recording 735 - the highest in nearly 100 days.

The UAE had lifted all movement restrictions on June 25 - three months after they were first introduced to flatten the curve of infections. As residents stayed home for over 90 days, all public facilities were thoroughly sterilised; rules for living in the new normal were formulated and enforced; and the infrastructure needed to implement the changes was built. All that was required was residents' compliance. The restrictions were eased, but the mandate for residents to do their part in winning the war on the virus remained.

The rules are very easy to follow: Wear a mask as you step out of home, avoid gatherings, maintain a safe distance from others, and ensure good hand hygiene. The trick is to follow these rules the right way. For instance, it won't help if you put your mask over your chin, or at the back of the head or let it hang by your ears. The mask must cover your nose and mouth. It is a little uncomfortable, yes, but it helps keep you and your loved ones safe. That momentary discomfort is a small price to pay to halt the spread of the deadly virus. We all know many people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or have had to take a pay cut, or were forced to send their families back to their home countries due to economic challenges. Firms are still far from pre-Covid profitability. Our compliance with the rules as a responsible society will determine the speed of return to normalcy and prevent further job cuts.

The authorities keep referring to the "reckless behaviour" of a few residents when announcing a surge in Covid cases. These are individuals who look for any excuse to bend the rules, if not completely break them: "This party I am hosting has only family and close friends"; or "I wash my hands after a handshake"; or "I saw on WhatsApp that the whole mask thing is a hoax".

I know of parents who are wary of sending their children to schools, most of which have documented proof of the stringent safety measures that have been rolled out. Yet these very parents crib at having to wear a face mask when stepping out. They take a mask when stepping out, but wear them only when they see a police patrol or 'official-looking people', as they call them. They mask up only out of fear of getting fined. "I can't afford to pay Dh3,000 for not wearing the mask," one of them said. What we certainly can't afford is a second wave of infections and another round of movement restrictions.



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