From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought some changes in lifestyle as well as socioeconomic interactions. In the race to contain its community transmission, health experts highlighted some safety protocols expected to help in the containment of the dreaded disease.
Use of face mask was one of them. It was made compulsory for all to use. This was to restrict saliva droppings through which the virus spreads, as medically stated.
Compliance level with COVID-19 safety protocols may be unimpressive in Nigeria. Notwithstanding, many wear face mask properly and adhere strictly to other COVID-19 protocols especially in public places, perhaps, to protect themselves and others against the disease.
But in the spirit of protection against the pandemic, some Nigerians have turned the face mask to a means of identity, constantly wearing face masks boldly branded uniquely with company logo or name. Many of them believe that such would easily disclose them to the next person, thus attracting respect and recognition in addition to marketing their brands.
Agencies of government and private firms made and distributed branded face masks to their staff at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and encouraged them to use them religiously to stay protected. Branded face masks have become souvenir and a kind of “thank you for coming” package for visiting guests and clients.
A fashion designer at Garki Market, Abuja, Zachariah Olawale, told The Sun that he designed and made branded face masks for several organizations during the lockdown: “Many of my customers who were happy with what I did referred people to me. I made different designs for several corporate organizations and religious groups. I made and still make fortunes from producing branded face masks.”
Another fashion designer at Kaura Market, Sheila Favour, said: “Some service units in my church contacted me to make branded face mask for them after one of the church members saw the ones I designed and posted on my WhatsApp status.
“I was glad the day I saw all the unit members masked up with the branded face mask one of Sundays. I felt good and fulfilled. They also made referral to me.”
A policeman from Benue State who pleaded anonymity said: “The branded face mask helped me greatly during the lockdown. I engaged in several commercial activities including transportation during the COVID-19 lockdown. I enjoy easy access each time I appear at checkpoints because of the branded face mask.
“I used it as a form of identity during that period and it helped me greatly. I traveled round the country in one business or the other during that period masked up with police branded face mask.”
A commercial driver, Isah, said his solider-brother facilitated a branded face mask for him, which has been extremely helpful for him: “I made lots of money during lockdown because I was engaged in transportation business. Because of restrictions in movement, people paid heavily to travel. I took that advantage with the help of the branded face mask to make fortunes.
“Even after the lockdown, I still use the face mask particularly at some locations to distinguish myself. Using the face mask gave me several exemptions from police harassment and others.”
A journalist, Kassim Ogah, said: “I traveled freely during the lockdown because of the branded face mask. I was never harassed by security officials because of my ‘Press’ branded face mask. It has been of a great assistance to me.”
The case is also similar with health workers, food vendors, civil servants and others with branded face masks.
However, there are indications that people with some underlying ailments like Asthma are not having it easy with the prolonged use of face mask because of its effects on their health. Many of them complained that the prolonged use of the face mask worsened their health situation, thus, pleading for understanding from COVID-19 protocol enforcement team.
There was a mild drama when one of the persons (name withheld) arrested by the FCT COVID-19 enforcement team explained that he could not use face mask:
“When some people that claimed to be COVID-19 protocols enforcement team arrested me, somewhere in Abuja, I told them that I use the face mask but not for a long time because of my health condition. I pleaded with them but they refused, insisting that I appear before a mobile court.”
Medical books have confirmed that prolonged use of N95 and surgical masks by healthcare professionals and other individuals during COVID-19 caused adverse effects such as headaches, rash, acne, skin breakdown and impaired cognition in the majority of those surveyed.