Nearly 63% of people wear masks in Bangladesh, where wearing face masks in public is mandatory to prevent Covid-19 transmission, a Dhaka Tribune survey finds
Dhaka division is the worst in Bangladesh in terms of wearing protective masks, even though the division is also the worst hit by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the country, according to a Dhaka Tribune survey.
Masks have proven to be one of the most affordable and effective tools for containing the spread of Covid-19. Overall, 62.71% of people in the country wear masks, but only 52.68% do so in Dhaka division, the survey found.
Meanwhile, 60.61% of people wear masks in fifth-placed Chittagong, and 80.14% wear masks in top-ranked Barisal.
However, the sample size for Barisal was significantly lower than the other divisions. Among the divisions with sample sizes of over 1,000 people, Khulna came in first with 73.24% of people wearing masks.
A total of 35,953 people in 42 districts across all eight divisions of the country served as the sample population for the survey, which was conducted from July 2-24. The survey was conducted by counting the number of people wearing masks on a selected street of each district for two hours.
Streets were selected based on volume of traffic.
A total of 22,546 people were found to be wearing masks during the survey period and 13,407 people were not wearing any kind of face covering.
The top five districts in terms of wearing masks are Bagerhat (91.64%), Jessore (94.55%), Kushtia (95.06%), Jamalpur (98%), and Bogra (98%). The district with the smallest percentage of people wearing masks was Joypurhat (10%).
Noted virologist Prof Nazrul Islam, who is also a member of the government's National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19, told Dhaka Tribune the survey results show that people in Bangladesh are becoming more aware about the pandemic.
“It is indeed an important and timely survey. As for the statistics, I would say a significant number of people have realized that wearing a mask can protect themselves and others around them,” he said.
Although everyone is required to wear a mask when they go to public places, Dr Nazrul Islam thinks it is unrealistic to expect 100% of people in Bangladesh to wear a face mask since affordability and access to information are two major barriers.
As of Tuesday, 3,000 people have died from Covid-19 and 229,185 tested positive for the disease in Bangladesh.
People in urban areas more likely to wear masks
The study found that 64.46% of people in urban areas wear masks, as opposed to 48.75% of people in rural areas. However, the infection rate is still higher in urban areas than rural areas.
Dr Nazrul believes one reason the infection rate is higher in urban areas is because there are more places to socialize there, and people tend to leave their homes even when there is no real urgent need to do so.
“The population density in rural areas is not as high as in urban areas and this could be a reason people in rural areas think they do not have to wear a mask,” he added.
DGHS: 62.71% wearing masks is an achievement
Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) spokesperson Dr Ayesha Akther told Dhaka Tribune that over 62% of people wearing masks is an achievement, considering the level of awareness about Covid-19 amongst the Bangladesh population.
“The government has been trying to promote wearing masks to slow down the spread of coronavirus in Bangladesh for about four months. The number of people that have started wearing masks outdoors in this short period of time is a collaborative achievement for the health sector, policymakers, and the citizens of Bangladesh who are following the health guidelines,” she said.
The Health Ministry issued a circular on the wearing of masks on July 21.
Dr Ayesha thinks motivating people to wear masks through positive reinforcement is more important than imposing a fine or punishment.
“Many people in our country are struggling to make ends meet in this pandemic. Imposing a fine would be too harsh on them in this situation. However, if we spot anyone who has absolutely no regard for the health guidelines and does not want to wear a mask at all, the authorities will take stern steps,” she told this correspondent.
Wear masks the proper way
A mask will not give much protection from the novel coronavirus if it is not worn the right way.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a mask must cover the nose and mouth, with no gap between the mask and the face.
Dr Nazrul said he has noticed a lot of people wearing masks with their noses exposed.
“That is not the right way to wear a mask, especially during a pandemic. The nose must be covered when you are wearing a mask,” he said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US recommends using cloth masks that include multiple layers of fabric.
Cloth face masks are reusable, but they must be properly washed in soap water before reuse.
Dr Islam said cloth face masks should be soaked in soap water for at least 30 minutes before washing to get rid of virus contamination.