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Covid-19: Gambians debate use of face masks

A fierce debate is raging in The Gambia over the effectiveness of using face masks as a means of curbing…

A fierce debate is raging in The Gambia over the effectiveness of using face masks as a means of curbing the spread of the coronavirus.In the first few days since the country’s first infection in March, there was a mad rush for face masks but this enthusiasm soon petered out weeks later when coronavirus cases became few and far between.

But these are different times with The Gambia currently having 326 cases of the virus, 66 recoveries and eight deaths, prompting the authorities to decide strict enforcement of the now compulsory face masks.

In downtown Serrekunda, Sera Jallow and another woman were engaged in a debate over the pros and cons of both the WHO-recommended medical masks with strapsa and those made of local fabrics by tailors cashing in on the growing need for them.

Health authorities in The Gambia have been given the powers by President Adama Barrow to declare the use of face masks compulsory as the country witnesses a peak period of infections.

Last Saturday, the country saw 61 new cases of the respiratory disease, the culmination of weeks of a Covid-19 surge that has alarmed some citizens.

“But it is difficult to breathe the same air in and out after wearing the face mask” said Sera, who was nonetheless wearing one made from leftover wax prints by tailors with a keen eye for business.   

Her anonymous companion did not subscribe to this and made her point to the effect that the health experts know better and should be trusted with the right regulations to stop Covid-19 in its tracks.

“If face masks are a necessary inconvenience to make us stay healthy and safe from coronavirus, we should not be in any position to discover the consequences of failing to use them” the woman said.

She was also wearing a mask but unlike Sera, hers completely covered her mouth and nose, an all-too familiar spectacle since wearing them became mandatory with fines of up to D500 for those refusing to cover up in public places.  

So far there has been no report of offenders being caught by the police and fined but many in crowds around markets and major thoroughfares do not seem to be bothered by the prospects of arrests or fines or both if they do not obey this regulation.

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