MOH reassures public there’s enough N95 masks to go around; Recommends use of surgical masks

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has reassured the public that there are enough N95 masks in Singapore for the public. This comes after several retail outlets ran out of both surgical and N95 masks today (24 January), one day after the country confirms its first case of the Wuhan virus.

Channel NewsAsia reported that a check showed that Guardian and Watsons stores in Paya Lebar Quarter, Clementi Mall and Tiong Bahru Plaza are out of the masks. In other places where the masks are still available, long queues were forming and the public anxiously snapped them up along with hand sanitizers and thermometers as precautions against the virus.

The MOH said in a press conference earlier this week that there is “more than sufficient” stock of N95 masks in the country should there be a surge in demand, adding that there is typically an excess of six months usage of different items including surgical masks during times of “peace”.

MOH also reminded the public to stay calm and urged people who are coughing and sneezing to use surgical masks

“The public need not panic. First of all, we don’t need N95 masks for most of the purposes we use the mask for. We also have enough stock within Singapore so there should not be a situation where we anticipate the masks running out at any time,” said the ministry.

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the designate director of medical services at the Health Ministry, explained that surgical masks work by preventing the spread of droplets and aerosols from sneezes and coughs, adding that it is sufficient for that purpose.

He said this is why MOH’s advisories do not advocate the use of N95 masks.

In fact, the ministry explained that sustained usage of N95 masks can be uncomfortable and is not recommended for the elderly who have specific medical conditions.

There is a certain way to properly wear N95 masks, fitting it to ensure no gaps and those who work in healthcare are required to undergo training for that said Koh Peng Keng, MOH Group Director of Operations.

“We don’t want people to have a false sense of security just because they put on an N95 mask,” he said.

MOH added that it tracks the sales of masks. At this time, the ministry says it is confident that there is sufficient stock for Singaporeans.

The Ministry noted that sales of masks urged in the past two weeks, even before the virus arrived on Singapore’s shores.

MOH added that major retailers have activated their supply chains to ensure sufficient stock in-stores but those who need supplements can approach MOH.

The outbreak so far

Two days ago (22 January), MOH issued a public health advisory reminding the public to stay exercise caution and attention with regards to personal hygiene when travelling to China due to the outbreak.

“If you need to travel to the affect areas, please regularly check MOH’s website at www.moh.gov.sg for updates. Travellers to China are advised to stay vigilant, monitor developments and heed the advice of the local Chinese authorities while in China,” the statement on MOH’s Facebook page read.

As the outbreak of the life-threatening coronavirus escalates, the Chinese city of Wuhan has been sealed off from all transits and is under effective quarantine.

So far, the death toll in China’s viral outbreak has risen to 25, with the number of confirmed cases leaping to 830. Additionally, the Chinese National Health Commission said authorities are also examining 1,072 suspected cases of the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Emergency Committee was supposed to meet on Wednesday (22 Jan) to discuss the new coronavirus but reconvened on Thursday instead, giving the reason that the situation with this new coronavirus is evolving and complex.

Speaking on this, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern on new coronavirus is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence.”

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