All 1.5 million Singapore households will be receiving a 500ml of zero-alcohol hand sanitizer from the Temasek Foundation, which contains 0.054 per cent of benzalkonium chloride (BKC) as recommended by the National Environment Agency (NEA), Channel News Asia reported.

Earlier on 17 March, Temasek Foundation chairman Lim Boon Heng announced the distribution of hand sanitizers will be conducted at each of the 109 People’s Association’s Community Clubs from 23 to 29 March and 16 participating CapitaLand malls from 23 March to 5 April.

The 16 participating malls are including Bedok Mall, Bugis Junction, Bugis +, Bukit Panjang Plaza, Clarke Quay, Funan, IMM, JCube, Junction 8, Lot One Shoppers Mall, Plaza Singapura, Raffles City Singapore, SingPost Centre, Tampines Mall, Star Vista, and Westgate.

According to Mr Lim, the distribution of hand sanitizer is part of a ‘Stay Prepared’ initiative that aimed to support Singaporeans in times of emergencies.

He noted the sanitizer is a zero-alcohol disinfectant, containing 0.054 per cent of BKC which followed the NEA’s interim guidelines that stated 0.05 per cent of BKC is sufficient to kill COVID-19. In fact, it is water-based and is not flammable, toxic or corrosive, thus it will not irritate the skin and safe for children.

Every household will be notified of the specific collection date via pamphlet, which will be delivered by Singapore Post. They are required to bring along the pamphlet and clean recycled bottles – up to 500 ml – when collecting the free sanitizer. Trained volunteers will mix the solution on-site before pouring it into residents’ bottles.

The collection of sanitizer starts from 3pm to 9pm on weekdays and 10am to 9pm on weekends.

Meanwhile, Temasek Foundation Cares chief executive Woon Saet Nyoon said social distancing measures will be implemented during the distribution, including a 1km gap between residents when queueing up to collect the sanitizer, as well as health declaration and temperature screening.

“If there are more than 250 people who turn up at the same collection point at the same time, we will ask for their understanding to wait a while and come back after a short period,” she said during a volunteer training session on 17 March.

Non-alcohol sanitizers may not be as effective as alcohol-based ones

Despite Temasek Foundation’s initiative to help Singaporeans stay prepared and resilient amid the COVID-19 virus crisis, not all hand sanitizers are effective to eliminate the virus, especially sanitizers that contain zero alcohol.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, alcohol-free sanitizers may not be as effective as alcohol-containing ones because it needs to contain at least 60% of alcohol to help avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

“Many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60% to 95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” CDC stated in its website.

CDC claimed that hand sanitizers containing below 60% of alcohol may not work equally well for many types of germs and merely reduce the growth of germs rather than kill them outright.

Chemistry educator Andy Brunning — who runs the Compound Interest site — wrote on his website, stating that non-alcohol-based sanitizers are generally less effective than alcohol-based ones.

“Benzalkonium chloride is often used in non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers,” he stated. “It has some effectivity against bacteria and limited activity against viruses.”

He also noted that the alcohol percentage by volume needs to be at least 60%, sanitizers that contain below this percentage are less likely to kill the bacteria and viruses.

“Another key factor is the volume of hand sanitizer used. It needs to be enough to cover all areas of both hands — otherwise, you’re leaving areas where viruses and bacteria could continue to linger. To properly coat your hands, you need to use about 3 milliliters of sanitizer (approximately a palmful),” Mr Brunning stated.

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