Last Friday, Reuters reported that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the new Wuhan virus did not appear to be as deadly as the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic (‘Wuhan virus does not appear to be as deadly as SARS, Singapore PM says‘, 24 Jan).
Nevertheless, he did say that Singapore is well prepared to tackle the Wuhan virus. He said, “MOH (Ministry of Health) has now activated plans to counter the spread of the virus, which so far does not appear to be as deadly as SARS was.”
Singapore suffered 33 deaths due to SARS, making it one of the worst hit countries outside China.
No need to rush to buy masks
Meanwhile, on Tuesday (28 Jan), Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min posted a message on his Facebook page saying there is no need to rush to buy masks (‘Wuhan virus: Enough masks available, no need to rush, says Lam Pin Min‘).
“There is no need to rush to buy masks. We are working with retailers like NTUC FairPrice and Unity Pharmacy to push out the stocks,” he wrote.
He said some retailers have started to ration the sale of masks “to ensure there is adequate supply for Singaporeans and to prevent unnecessary hoarding”. He also cautioned retailers against profiteering.
Masks should be used only by those who are unwell
Yesterday (30 Jan), Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong revealed at a news conference that more than five million masks released to retailers “snapped up in hours” each time a batch of these were put up for sale over the past nine days (‘Wuhan virus: Masks should be used only by those who are unwell‘).
Minister Wong said that this had happened despite retailers limiting sales to one box per customer. “The current rate of consumption of masks in Singapore is not sustainable… especially with the global shortage and the likely export bans,” he said.
It’s not surprising that masks are being snapped up rapidly given that Singapore now has a population of more than 5.7 million.
Minister Wong and his colleagues now urged Singaporeans to refrain from hoarding masks and said that masks are needed only by those who are unwell and need to see a doctor.
Those who are well, do not need to don a mask and would be better protected by washing hands with soap and water regularly, the 4G leaders said at the conference.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing added, “We cannot assume our supply lines are unconstrained or unaffected by the competition from others who are taking action to secure their own supply lines.”
He also accused those hoarding supplies as being “selfish” and “not appropriate”. With regard to the 4 free masks each Singapore household will be getting from the government, Minister Chan warned, “This is not a set of masks for us to take, open immediately, use it to go to the hawker centre. These masks are to be kept in the household for members of our families who might get ill and need to access medical help.”
He added, “We must all act in unison and not jeopardize the entire system by doing things that we think might benefit and protect ourselves, to the detriment of everyone else in society.”
This is also echoed by PM Lee in a Facebook post on Thursday evening, where he highlighted the MOH’s advice to only need to wear a mask if we are sick.
“There is no need to wear a mask if we are well.” wrote PM Lee.
He also reminded people that there will be a one-time mask distribution at Residents’ Committees and Community Centres.
Residents will need to bring their NRICs to verify their addresses in order to collect one pack of four surgical masks per household. PA volunteers will help distribute masks to residents who are not able to go to the RCs and CCs themselves.
The Health Ministry also placed a prominent advertisement on Straits Times today (31 Jan) telling everyone not to use masks if one is well.
The Government is currently sourcing for new mask suppliers and ramping up supplies from traditional sources.