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CARELESS DISPOSAL OF MASKS A DANGER

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MBABANE – The environment and public health in the country is now under a new threat. 

This is because of the careless disposal of surgical masks, which members of the public are seemingly littering all over the country’s roads. 

During a walk by this report along one stretch of a 100-metre road in the capital city, about five of the disposable masks were found tossed either by the side of the road or in the middle of the road. The blue and white masks are now a common sight with regard to litter as some members of the public do not even bother putting them in bins or trash cans. 

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020 state that after use, a single use mask shall be disposed of in a covered waste bag or bin. The spot fine for breaking this regulation, according to the law, is E100. 

Meanwhile, the Eswatini Environment Authority (EEA) has cautioned members of the public against getting rid of the disposable masks willy-nilly. 

Through its Environmental Information Officer Belusile Mhlanga, she said this form of littering was not only harmful to the environment, but to human beings too. She said for example, children had a tendency of picking up the masks and then using them yet they had already been used and could contain viruses. 

Condoms

Mhlanga said this was a similar scenario to when people used to discard condoms, in particular used ones, in an unsafe manner and children would collect them and use them as balloons, which they would blow into, which posed a great health danger.

She said as an organisation, they could not currently conduct clean-up campaigns, but called on every citizen to be responsible when it came to the disposal of the masks. She suggested that like disposable diapers, those who did not have proper bins should bury them into the ground. The era of the disposable masks started after the outbreak of COVID-19, when they were suddenly available to members of the public. 

Initially, the Ministry of Health had stated that these should be strictly  for healthcare workers or frontline workers, however, this was around the time when they were not easily available in the market. 

The disposable masks cost about E5 per unit while a box of 50 can also go for E100. On cloth masks, it is encouraged that after use, they are washed and hung to dry in the sun and ironed.    

Meanwhile, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Regulations, 2020 titled compulsory use of mask Section 4 (21) states that a person who contravenes a provision of the regulations of the compulsory use of masks shall be liable to pay an admission of guilt fine of E100. 

Litter

Regulation 4 (18) makes it clear that a person shall not litter the ground with a used mask. The regulations further state that a single use mask shall be discarded after each use in a covered waste bin or bag. 

The regulations are very strict on the sharing of masks as it is stated that it is strictly prohibited. Sub-section 20 states that the Ministry of Health officials shall educate the public on the proper use and disposal of masks. 

Section 4 states that in the prevention of the spread of  COVID-19, the key factor is the compulsory use of face masks by every person at any public place, motor vehicle or premises in the presence of other people. The regulations, however, do not apply to children under two years old. 

The guidelines state that before putting on a mask, a person shall clean their hands with soap and running water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser. “A face mask shall fully cover one’s mouth and nose and shall be tied securely or placed on elastic loops to ensure that there are no gaps between the face and the cloth face mask,” reads subsection 4 of the regulations. 

The health guidelines further discourage the touching of the mask while it is in use provided that in the event it is unavoidable, one shall clean hands with soap and running water or an alcohol-based hand rub. The regulations further state that a person shall not touch the front of the face mask and then touch other parts of the face, especially the eyes, mouth and nose.

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