Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that wearing a mask is not the most important thing to do to keep the coronavirus at bay.
This was said at a press conference on Wednesday in response to queries about a letter written by four senior medical practitioners circulated on Monday (10 Feb) that advise people to wear face masks when they leave home so control the spread of “Covid-19”.
Referring to the letter, Prof Mak said that while some advice is very relevant, such as reminders to wash your hands, people must remember that the virus is spread via droplets with no evidence that is it airborne.
“And be aware of things you commonly touch. The thing most commonly touched is your phone, so wearing a mask is not the most important thing,” said Prof Mak.
In the letter entitled, “Health advisory from senior medical practitioners to Singaporeans”, the practitioners highlighted how “things are not so straightforward” with the Covid-19 as it was with Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARs) coronavirus in 2003.
They pointed out that “as this virus is said to be milder, infected people with no symptoms could transmit the virus to others silently. A certain percentage will developing deadly disease.” and warned that temperature screening works less well to identify those infected.
“As they mingle freely and unmasked, more and more people could be infected daily without even knowing it.”, said the practitioners.
They also warned that deaths from Covid-19 could exceed SARs as it did in 2002 because the reported death toll of the virus has already overtaken SARs.
Speaking to TOC, Dr Colleen Thomas, one of the letter signatories remarked that the ratio of seven cases that are currently in the intensive-care unit out of the 47 confirmed infected cases, is not a low figure. “So we know that the 0.2, 0.1 rate of severity is actually low for Singapore hence we have to take caution.”
The confirmed number of cases has been increased to 50 after MOH confirms another 3 cases, believed to be locally transmitted.
Contradiction between letter’s advice and government’s narrative
The controversy stemming from the letter is due to the fact that it runs against the government’s narrative that one should not wear a face mask if one is not sick.
From the very beginning, the multi-ministerial task force headed by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Lawrence Wong to tackle the Covid-19 epidemic, 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.
This was echoed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong which was widely reported in media in a Facebook post on earlier on 30 Jan, 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.
Mainstream media continued to report on PM Lee’s point in subsequent reports on the matter.
Furthermore, MOH has placed daily ads on major newspapers to inform people of it. They have, however, removed that tagline in their advertisements after the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) was raised to Orange last Friday.