As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread causing the number of confirmed cases and deaths to tick steadily upwards, the demand for masks has skyrocketed, both in Singapore and the Asian region in general.
When news of the Wuhan virus—which first emerged in the city of Wuhan in the Hubei Province of China—started to hit global headlines and cases started popping up beyond China’s borders, people around the world started snapping up available stocks of masks.
In Singapore, the demand for masks was so dire that most retail stores were out of stock by mid-January, just after the first couple of imported cases were confirmed in the country. Media reports indicated that most outlets were out of surgical and N95 masks and were running out of hand sanitisers quickly as well. TOC’s volunteer reporter confirmed this.
Police had to be called in last Friday evening to Jurong Point shopping centre when consumers could not get their hands on face masks as they were out of stock.
Government officials were quick to reassure the public that the country has a sufficient stockpile of masks for the entire population.
Minister Lawrence Wong said in a ministerial statement yesterday (3 February) that the country has built up a stockpile of masks over the year, learning from past experience with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and other crises such as the haze issue.
Mr Wong highlighted that the government has released 5 million masks from the country’s stockpiles to retailers, all of which were snapped up in a matter of hours.
As such, Mr Wong said that the government had to seriously consider the risk of the country’s supply being disrupted due to the rapid consumption.
The government has now adjusted its strategy, slowing down the supply of masks to retailers, prioritising masks for essential services such as frontline healthcare workers. The government is also in the process of making a one-time release of four masks per household.
Thousands of masks being exported out of Singapore
Now, while the government is being cautious about its supply of masks for the country’s population, it seems that the administration has yet to implement a temporary ban on the export of masks, a move that Taiwan has recently enforced to ensure that the island has sufficient supply.
Last weekend, Chinese singer Hu Haiquan reportedly sent 160,000 masks from Singapore to China to help with the shortage there.
According to a Weibo post by the singer’s venture capital fund Haiquan Fund on 2 February, Hu was spotted at Changi Airport with 40 boxes filled with approximately 80,000 pieces of masks to be delivered to those in need in his native country, China.
There were also 10 families boarding the same flight who helped Hu check-in several luggage bags filled with more masks. This apparently occurred just before the airline, which remained unidentified, suspended flights to China.
The Haiquan Fund thanked the volunteers for their help in sending the masks back to China, noting that this method could be more efficient than an official channel.
It remains unclear how the singer managed to obtain such a large number of masks.
Hu isn’t the only one to have exported masks though. There have also been people in Singapore who are from Wuhan who have bought 240 boxes of masks and other relief supplies to be delivered to their families and friends back home. The masks arrived in Shanghai in the early morning of third day of Chinese New Year.
According to reports, those who sent the masks to China from Singapore did so with documents prepared by the Hubei Provincial People’s Government. The masks were dispatched to Wuhan city from Shangai.
Other than those shipping back masks over to China, you also have other nationalities shipping back to their own countries as observed in a Facebook post, showing monks from Sri Lanka checking in boxes of masks at Changi Airport.
In other news, the Taiwan government banned exports of facemask last week in a bid to assure citizens that there will be enough for everyone.
So the question now is, will the Singapore government implement a temporary ban on the export of masks until this coronavirus ordeal passes?