Malaysia is set to be hit by a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic if the people continue to be complacent about complying with the standard operating procedure (SOP), such as wearing face masks and practising social distancing, said Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said the increase in new clusters could cause a spike in cases if the outbreak is not properly controlled.

"(A COVID-19) pandemic? Probably yes, if Malaysians do not adhere to the SOP. Preventive measures are more important.

"The new clusters are like embers, and if we do not comply with the SOP, it's like we are the fuel. So, when fuel mixes with embers it will cause a huge blaze, which means a sudden spike in cases," he said at the COVID-19 media briefing here today.

He said the Health Ministry (KKM) has recorded 120 new cases in the 30th epidemiological week (from July 19 to July 25) and this is worrying, especially if the number of new cases continues to rise.

"If there are 2,000 to 3,000 cases in a week, then hospitals will be crowded and we won't be able to treat the patients. At that time, our control measures will only be focused on hospitals.

"But now, at the early stage, (we still) can control by practising the SOP, such as wearing face masks and social distancing. These two methods have been proven to break the chain of infection by 60 to 70 per cent.

"We have a very small time period and space to break the chain. What is certain, though, is that if we can comply with the SOP, then we can return to our normal daily lives," he said.

The first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Malaysia was through tourists from China early this year, while the second wave was the import cases.

Asked about the use of single-ply and two-ply face masks, Dr Noor Hisham said they were not effective in preventing one from being infected by the virus.

He said the World Health Organisation (WHO) had issued guidelines stating that the face masks must use hydrophilic and hydrophobic material to avoid COVID-19 infection.

"KKM does not encourage the use of single-layer face masks. Non-medical face masks must have three layers. If you want to use face masks made of cloth, then make sure they are of the three-ply type.

"We are also looking to provide face masks for the needy, like (the) B40 (group)," he said.