'Better than nothing': Thailand encourages cloth masks amid surgical mask shortage

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s health authorities are encouraging people to make cloth face masks at home to guard against the spread of the coronavirus amid a shortage of surgical masks.

Thailand, which has reported a total of 70 cases, put surgical masks and sanitizers under its list of controlled goods last month, as the spread of the coronavirus led to shortages in stores.

The shortage of surgical masks prompted the Thai government to approve a 225 million baht ($7 million) budget last week for government agencies to produce 50 million cloth masks in a matter of days for nationwide distribution.

Cloth masks are enough to prevent people from catching the virus via droplets from coughing or sneezing, said Panpimon Wipulakorn, Director-General for the Department of Health.

“The droplet from coughing and sneezing is around five microns and we have tested already that cloth masks can protect against droplets bigger than one micron,” Panpimon said, adding that the masks needed to be washed daily.

The official herself appeared in a public health ministry video teaching people how to make cloth masks at home. Workshops have also been set up nationwide to help produce the masks.

Many Thais answered the government’s call by getting together in small groups at community centers around the country to make masks from cloth and distribute them to others for free.

It did not take long for Phongsai Kaewvichit, a 63-year-old retiree, to make one.

“I’m making these cloth face masks for my family and relatives because I can’t find the surgical masks anymore and the price is very high,” said Phongsai.

“I think it is better than nothing because at least it can protect me from people’s saliva in close contact.”

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