TODAY published an exclusive story yesterday (20 February) of Ms Jennifer Le, a former Vietnamese and now naturalized Singaporean, on her goodwill of providing free masks for those in need.
At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, Ms Le had taken onto herself to provide masks as Singaporeans were torn between the depleting stocks of masks and the hiked prices imposed by retailers. Despite the government’s assurance there was a sufficient supply of masks, Singaporeans were unable to source out these masks themselves.
What initially began as a solo mission, expanded with the help of her 45-year-old photographer husband, Martin Lim, who brought approximately 6,000 more masks through his own contacts. Also to chip in were two of Ms Le’s Vietnamese friends who contributed S$200 to buy additional masks from a Vietnamese retailer on Facebook. And in two separate days, 6,600 masks were handed out and cleared within minutes.
TODAY’s report also revealed that Mr Lim was initially unaware of his wife’s good intention to supply the masks for free. Only upon finding this out, he purchased 6,000 masks at a premium. When asked about the cost that was incurred by the couple, Mr Lim refused to disclose such information, citing that they were merely carrying out the same goodwill act which was previously seen in Vietnam and encouraged fellow Singaporeans to share.
“The rich people in Vietnam began to buy face masks after the prices shot up. They would then pay people to set up stalls and give out the masks for free,” Mr Lim added.
TODAY’s article also highlights that Ms Lee refused to provide her name or other personal details as she did not want to be interviewed and said that she only derived happiness in trying to offer help to those who were in greater need.
Mr Lim reiterated that the couple were just ordinary, everyday Singaporeans. The couple affirmed that they did not hire others to assist in setting up their stalls as they had organised everything themselves.
The couple also disclosed that they exercised good personal hygiene when packing the masks into packs of three and wore masks when distributing them to the public.
It is earlier reported on 5 February on how the group distributed the first 600 masks at the Sengkang MRT station and subsequently on 16 February, where they enlisted the help of more friends to hand out masks at the Toa Payoh Hub Atrium and Hougang Mall.
Prior to these distributions, Mr Lim had posted this on his Facebook page and it was shared to notify Singaporeans that masks would be given out for free.
“Many Singaporeans came to get the masks and what we had were gone quickly,” Mr Lim said. The masks were snapped up within five minutes in Toa Payoh and 10 minutes in Hougang. The giveaway was supposed to be from 6pm to 7pm at both places but it was over before the hour was up.
Mr Lim further elaborated that the locations were selected because more senior residents lived in the area and they were more susceptible to contract the virus.
“We hope more Singaporeans will step up and be encouraged to share. Don’t hoard the masks because there are people who are in need of them and do not be kiasu (afraid to miss out),” Mr Lim said.
While the couple intends to continue these efforts, they are unable to find a reasonable seller. This comes in the vein of escalating prices of masks as demand increases.
Similarly, earlier this year another Singaporean man and his Vietnamese wife handed out 4,000 masks on January 31 and another 6,000 masks on 1 February. The couple Adrian and his wife Yen Vy Vu Tran were thanked for their efforts in a viral Facebook post shared by Singapore Atrium Sale.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, (18 February) Minister for National Development, Lawrence Wong, revealed Singapore’s intention of having the masks manufactured locally.
This came as an answer to Ang Mo Kio Member of Parliament, Gan Thiam Poh who posed an oral question in Parliament whether the Government would designate a local facility within Singapore to produce face masks and other protective medical equipment.
Mr Wong explained that countries like Taiwan, Thailand and India “have banned or tightened regulations on the export of masks”. Therefore, Mr Wong adds that it is imperative for Singapore to strengthen their supply chain.
“In peacetime, we had built up a stockpile of surgical and N95 masks. As we draw down on this stockpile, we will also need to replenish it with new supplies,” said the Minister.