ST says medical chief rebutted doctors’ mask advice when he merely said “not the most important thing”

The Straits Times (ST) published a news article on its print edition today saying that Singapore’s medical chief Associate Professor Kenneth Mak had “rebutted” a public advice from 4 local medical doctors to wear masks in light of the current coronavirus infections (‘Medical chief rebuts doctors’ mask advice‘, 13 Feb).

Wearing a mask is not the most important thing to do to keep the coronavirus at bay, said Prof Mak who is the Director of Medical Services at the Ministry of Health (MOH).

He was responding to media questions with regard to a letter signed by 4 local medical doctors, which has been circulated on social media. The letter advised that everyone should wear a mask when leaving home, regularly wash hands and reduce unnecessary mingling with others. In essence, the doctors’ advice ran contrary to the government’s official advice to only wear masks if one is not well.

Prof Mak reminded the public that the virus is spread via droplets with no evidence that it is airborne. “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,” he added.

In other words, Prof Mak did not discount the wearing of masks. He merely said it’s “not the most important thing”.

However, ST had chosen to use the word “rebut” in the title of its news article. This is how the Oxford Dictionary defines the word “rebut”:

That is to say, ST is giving an impression to the public that the Singapore’s medical chief has asserted that the local medical doctors’ advice to wear masks is false when he merely said it’s “not the most important thing” – that is, having a lower priority.

One of the doctors Dr Colleen Thomas who is an internal medicine specialist in private practice, in fact, told TOC 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.”

Their letter also mentioned how countries such as Kuwait and Qatar have issued travel advisories to their citizens concerning Singapore after Britain, Malaysia and South Korea have cases that were infected from Singapore.

“The infected are not always traceable and containable within hospital isolation rooms. As this virus is said to be milder, infected people with no symptoms could transmit the virus to others silently,” the letter said.

“We are advising everyone to wear a mask always when leaving home. If one faces a person and both parties are masked, it is considerably safer, constituting a 2 barrier protection. It may not possible for everyone to get a new surgical mask everyday. We need to find creative solutions. Some people have purchased washable cloth masks, sewed them, constructed them with suitable paper, or tied a scarf to the face. These measures are better than no mask at all.”

When interviewed by mainstream media, Dr Colleen Thomas said they felt obliged to send out the warning as “the burden of not doing so is too great to bear”. She added, “As a doctor, how can I not speak out when I know that there is danger to people?”

Indeed, even PAP’s own MP Cheng Li Hui was seen wearing a mask with gloves when doing her grassroots work in her constituency:

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