The four surgical masks being distributed for free by the Government are not meant to be used immediately upon collection, but for people who are unwell to use them before getting new masks at the clinic or hospital, said Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary.
Dr Janil in an interview with CNA on 30 Jan said that those who are well do not need to use the mask and “worry” about getting a mask.
“The purpose of these masks is that if you are sick and then need to go see a doctor, you have a mask to take with you on your journey there.
“When you go to see the doctor at the polyclinic or the hospital, you’ll be given another mask and as many masks as you need,” said Dr Janil.
“You don’t need to go and join these long queues to stock up on masks just in case. We’re putting a mask in your hand. If you’re sick and you need it, it’s there,” he said.
Part of the 1.3 million households across Singapore began receiving four surgical masks per household from the Government on Sat (1 Feb).
The masks will be distributed via 89 community centres (CC) and 654 residents’ committee (RC) centres until Sun (9 Feb).
Residents of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats may check their nearest designated RC centre on Maskgowhere.sg.
The masks can only be collected once per household and those collecting will have to bring along their identity card (NRIC).
For vulnerable segments of the population and residents with mobility issues who may be unable to collect them at the designated points, the government said that the masks will be delivered to said residents instead.
WATCH: Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary speaks to CNA on why each Singapore household is getting 4 surgical masks
Noting that the Government — particularly economic agencies — has been working on clamping down profiteering among unscrupulous parties especially on online marketplaces, Dr Janil said that the real aim of handing our four masks per household is to “reduce the anxiety that drives people to go and stock up on hundreds of boxes just in case”.
“The message that we want to send is: The mask that you need — just in case — we’re putting it in your hands,” he reiterated.
When asked as to how the Government could ensure that the distribution of free masks will be equitable for each household, Dr Janil said: “Right now, the masks that are being provided to retailers … They’re not being distributed equally to all Singaporeans”.
This is due to the act of bulk buying by the same people who are willing to brave long queues over and over again, he said.
The Government’s free mask handout exercise, on the other hand, ensures that the masks are “distributed throughout the country — in every estate, in every division, in every town”, said Dr Janil.
While the Government is taking measures to to restrict Singaporeans’ travel to Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei Province, practicing personal hygiene such as washing hands is a crucial and helpful precautionary measure on a domestic level.
“Within Singapore, washing our hands, practicing personal hygiene and getting on with all the other things we have to do is important,” he said.
Touching on claims circulating online regarding frontline Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) officers being instructed not to wear face masks, Dr Janil said that frontline officers responsible for health checks such as thermal screening were all wearing masks, based on findings from his inspection at the Tuas and Woodlands Checkpoints.
Their situation, he added, is “different from the rest of us who are well” due to the high risk of exposure to the virus when carrying out their work.
“We want them to carry out their duty whether someone is not cooperative or coughing or are at risk … and that mask helps them do that,” said Dr Janil.
Frontline ICA officers could wear masks if they need to: Home Affairs Minister
Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Sat (1 Feb) similarly denied allegations that frontline Immigration and Checkpoint Authority (ICA) officers had been instructed not to wear face masks while on duty.
Mr Shanmugam told reporters on a visit to Woodlands Checkpoint on Sat that ICA officers working at Customs and customer service counters the immigration checkpoints have been given the same protocols as other frontline officers from other government departments.
“I think there has been a misunderstanding. If you are not well, then you shouldn’t even be there,” he said, noting that officers on duty could wear face masks if they felt the need to do so.
Mr Shanmugam said that practicing good personal hygiene is more crucial, as there is a high risk of being infected with the virus through touching contaminated surfaces.
“The riskiest part of the body right now is your hands, many of us touch things and bring it to our face, that’s the possibility of the virus going in,” he said.
Frontline immigration officers allegedly “not allowed” to wear face masks while on duty, online users claim
Claims regarding frontline staff at immigration checkpoints not being permitted to wear face masks while on duty circulated online late last month.
Such claims suggested that the frontline immigration officers were not instructed to wear masks while screening visitors over at the counters to portray a positive image to visitors entering the country, particularly in the midst of rising xenophobic sentiments — Sinophobic in particular — against visitors from mainland China following the outbreak.
In neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Thailand, all frontline immigration officers are instructed to wear face masks.
The Thaiger reported at the end of last month that immigration officers in Thailand at all airports nationwide are required to wear masks and gloves “as they must handle many passports and frequently converse with passengers”.
Earlier on 28 Jan, TOC sent a query to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) regarding why frontline officers — barring those tasked to do health checks — at the immigration checkpoints did not put on face masks, as seen below.
However, we did not receive any reply from MHA regarding the claims.
MHA on 31 Jan, however, told Mothership that frontline ICA officers are not required to wear surgical masks because “the risk of infection from such transient contact is assessed to be low”.
“The health authorities generally define the level of close contact that is necessary for virus transmission as an exposure of at least 30 minutes within two metres of an infected person,” MHA added.
However, the Ministry added that officers who are unwell and have a fever, cough or runny nose should put on a surgical mask, and seek medical attention promptly.
“ICA officers who are assigned to perform clearance duties on travellers with respiratory symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath) will don surgical masks and disposable gloves,” the Ministry added.
Health experts in Singapore earlier told The Straits Times that there is no need for healthy people to wear the masks, as currently there is no community spread of the Wuhan virus in Singapore.
In the same vein, Gov.sg also reminded the public on Sat that the masks “are for those who are sick”, and that people who are in healthy condition do not need to wear a mask.