PETALING JAYA: To many Malaysians, the sign posted at the entrance of every place of business that reads, “Face masks required”, seems to be just that – a sign.

It is not uncommon to find people walking around in malls and even on the streets with their masks down, little realising the risk they are taking.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Koh Kar Chai said we need to be aware of our surroundings if we want to be safe given the relaxation of restrictions.

“Face masks should be worn in public places where there is a possibility of close contact. In our standard operating procedures, wearing a face mask is a requirement in public places. However, if a person is jogging or exercising on their own and there is no possibility of close contact, it should be all right to have the masks temporarily removed,” he told theSun.

He added that for indoor activities, such as hitting the gym, the risk of infection can be reduced with good ventilation and physical distancing.

“In general, close contact without face masks should be avoided,” Koh added.

Koh also noted that given that only fully-vaccinated individuals are allowed to dine in, a significant level of risk of transmission is reduced.

However, he said the risk of infection can increase in poorly- ventilated restaurants and close seating arrangements.

He reminded the public that the fully vaccinated may be protected against severe Covid-19 but being fully vaccinated does not guarantee them a silver ticket out of the road to an infection.

“You (fully-vaccinated individuals) can still be infected with the virus and transmit the disease to others. Fully-vaccinated individuals walking around unmasked in the presence of others are irresponsible and can set off a dangerous trend as people may follow their bad example and put others at risk,” he said.

“We still need to protect those who are not eligible for the vaccines or who are immuno-compromised. This group in our population remains at high risk of severe Covid-19 infections and in some cases, even death,” Koh added.

Meanwhile, virologist Prof Dr Sandy Loh of University Nottingham Malaysia told theSun masks should be worn at all times except while eating and drinking.

“When we exercise, we exhale and inhale a larger volume of air. In return, the relative risk of exposure to coronavirus droplets may be increased compared to standing still in the same space,

“Additionally, physical distancing alone won’t protect you especially if we are indoors where coronavirus droplet particles can hang in the air and the concentration can build up in enclosed and poorly-ventilated spaces,” she said.

She added that there is less risk in the outdoors because of the large volume of air and available space to practise physical distancing.

“However, remember that this doesn’t mean the outdoors are safe. Circumstances matter, such as whether we practise proper physical distancing, wearing the right type of masks, practising proper hygiene and other SOP.”

She pointed out that the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention previously said gym-goers should wear masks in fitness centres, including during high-intensity exercise.

“There are numerous sports or exercise masks which are suitable for indoor and outdoor exercise activities. Exercise lovers should consider these masks that have been made specially to cater to their needs,” she suggested.

Loh noted that those who dine in should only remove their masks while eating and drinking, rather than for the whole duration of the meal.

“Masks are not permitted to be removed for the sole purpose of talking to others. Talking without masks on would definitely increase the risk of spreading the virus.”

Loh also reminded the public of the dangerous Delta variant, known for its high transmissibility and severe illness.

“Bear in mind that there are groups that have not been vaccinated (below 11 years old) or those with medical circumstances that cannot be vaccinated. Additionally, the immunity of fully vaccinated people will wane over time.”