Myanmar & COVID-19

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Host Homemade Cloth Mask Contest to Curb COVID-19 Spread in Myanmar

By Lwin Mar Htun 8 May 2020

YANGON—State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will hold an online homemade cloth face mask-making contest, according to an announcement on her Facebook account on Thursday. The move is an apparent attempt to increase awareness of the importance of wearing masks when going outdoors to curb the spread of the coronavirus, after the government’s initial appeals went largely unheeded.

The country detected its first COVID-19 case in late March. As of Thursday evening, Myanmar had 176 cases with six deaths. The government has been encouraging people to stay home as much as they can while urging them to wear face masks when they go out. Prior to the contest announcement, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said on Facebook that one of the most effective ways to prevent infection was to properly use a face mask. “I am thinking about holding a mask-making contest to encourage people to use them,” she said at the time.

Her announcement comes amid concerns that the Myanmar public is not sufficiently responding to the government’s request that the public wear face masks, partly out of ignorance and partly due to the prohibitive cost of surgical masks for the poor. The price of such masks has risen nearly 10-fold due to the outbreak. Medical experts say that even though a face mask can’t offer 100 percent protection from infection, it can offer some protection while preventing infected people from transmitting it to others.

The need to boost face mask wearing appears to have prompted the State Counselor’s announcement of a homemade cloth mask contest.

Within nine hours, her post received over 200,000 reactions and over 30,000 shares with a lot of positive comments.

In her post, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said, “It is okay to use sewing machines or make it by hand but it must be self-made by the contestant.”

Contestants can use their favorite colors and designs but have to sew the cloth face mask according to the instructions provided by the Ministry of Health and Sports.

According to the instructions, the cloth used must be cotton or linen and the mask must have two layers, each a different color. The mask must fit the wearer properly.

The contest will be held over three days starting on May 13.

“This coming May 13, I will upload my own photo of myself wearing a cloth mask, sewn by myself. Then, contestants can start commenting and posting their photos under my post until May 15,” she wrote.

The three masks whose photos receive the most likes will be selected as the winners.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ended her post by inviting everyone to participate in the contest.

On April 9, the State Counselor posted photos showing her sewing her own cloth mask. Many people were inspired to start making their own at home and to start using masks. However, some people still do not wear masks when going outside.

“Hope more people are wearing masks when they go outside by making this kind of campaign. Wearing a mask is not for style and it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” one person wrote in a comment under Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s post.

Another comment said, “Our country is still not used to wearing masks when going outside. So, this kind of campaign to spread awareness by using social media is needed.”

Some people continue to question the extent to which a cloth mask can actually keep you safe, however.

“There’s no exact answer for how the virus is transmitted between people. Some say cloth masks can’t protect you from the virus but wearing one is better than nothing,” said Dr Naing Oo Khin, project manager (access to health) at Alliance Myanmar’s sub-office in Mohnyin Township, Kachin State.

He supported Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s cloth mask contest and thanked her for considering the basic needs of people and encouraging them with her activities.

“As you know, surgical mask prices are expensive for those who have low incomes and this kind of knowledge—that they can sew their own masks at home—is needed, but it has to be sewn correctly,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s post didn’t mention what prizes would be offered to the winners.

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