Source: Terry Xu

The Government is distributing four surgical face masks to each Singapore household as a “one-time exercise” in an effort to assure that the masks are available, only if the citizens really need it. 

Recently the masks were released directly to the public from the national stockpile amid concerns over the Wuhan coronavirus and reports of retailers running out of surgical face masks across the country.  

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said households that already have their own supply of masks, do not need to rush to collect the Government-distributed surgical face masks, Today Online reported on 30 January 2020.

“This is not a set of masks for us to take, open it immediately and go to the hawker centre. These masks are to be kept in the household for members of the family who might need to access medical help,” he said. 

On 30 January 2020, Mr Chan told Channel News Asia that the usage of masks were increasing despite 5 million masks being distributed to retailers in the past nine days.

Although, Mr Chan also indicated the impact of the Wuhan coronavirus situation as “wider, deeper and longer” than the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. 

“We understand when people are fearful there is a tendency for them to panic buy or hoard, but not managing the usage will jeopardise our entire healthcare system, not allowing us to take care of those who need it the most,” he added. 

The collection of masks was made available progressively at 89 Community Centres (CCs) and 654 Residents’ Committee (RC) centres, started on 1 February and is expected to be completed by 9 February. 

Residents will have to bring along their NRIC for verification purposes when collecting the masks. While residents with mobility issues will get their masks delivered by the People’s Association volunteers. 

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that the Government was prompted to change the procedure to release more stocks as the masks were “snapped up in hours”, Business Insider Singapore reported on 30 January 2020.

“We will prioritise the national stockpile of masks for essential services, namely our healthcare workers at the frontline,” Mr Wong said. 

During the parliament on 3 February 2020, Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera touched on the rationale for setting up distribution points instead of mailing out the masks, Mr Wong responded that a collection exercise would be a more “prudent” way of distributing masks, Mothership reported. 

“We felt that if you were to distribute masks via post, there may well be wastage because some households will not need the masks,” said Mr Wong. 

­The Novel coronavirus has now spread to 28 countries and territories worldwide, with 24,552 confirmed cases and 492 deaths as of today. In Singapore, there are 24 confirmed cases so far.

Temasek Cares delivered masks to all households in 2014

Despite the accelerated pace of the coronavirus spread around the world, showing the severity of the situation, all households are required to collect the Government-distributed surgical masks in Community Centres and Residents’ Committee centres themselves.

This is a different distribution method compared to 2014 when government-owned Temasek Holdings delivered ‘Stay Prepared’ starter kits to Singapore households despite there being no critical issue or need at the time.

Temasek Cares, the philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings, partnered with Singapore Power and SingPost for the S$4 million programme. They managed to deliver N95 masks to about 1.2 million households in the country as part of a starter kit to help citizens for emergence readiness such as flu pandemic or severe haze from the forest fires in the region. 

All households received starter kits with each containing three 3M masks and emergency contact numbers in their mailboxes. The Stay Prepared initiative lasted from 6 May 2014 to 12 May 2014. 

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