A message has been making the rounds on social messaging platforms and various chat groups cautioning people that they will be warned and subsequently fined for not wearing a mask when venturing outdoors.
As seen in the photo below, the message is written in both Mandarin and English. It starts by saying “Be sure to wear a mask when you go out tomorrow”, before breaking down the penalties for not doing so. It goes on to say that first time offenders will purportedly receive a warning while second and third time offenders will be fined S$50 and S$150 respectively.
The message also notes that those without masks can get them at community centres (CC). It concludes by asking people to remind those around them to put on a mask before heading out.
However, as far as we know, no such regulation has been announced by Ministry of Health (MOH) or any other government authority.
MOH has started making clarifications regarding misinformation relating to COVID-19 on it’s website. This matter has yet to be addressed on that site.
TOC has reached out to the MOH for confirmation on this.
Separately today (9 April), a Facebook user named Hawk Chen shared a screenshot of an email from the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) clarifying that there are “no fines for not wearing masks”. The Council added, “We are encouraged to wear masks but it’s not a penalty for not doing so.”
Gov’t “no longer discouraging” people from wearing masks
On 3 April, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in an apparent “u-turn” of government policy, announced in a televised broadcast that authorities will no longer “no longer discourage people from wearing masks”. PM Lee explained that the Government’s reason for advising the general public to only wear such masks if they are unwell was based on “scientific advice and guidelines” from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Presently, however, the premier said that the Government is concerned about “some cases out there community going undetected” even if there are few of them.
In tandem with the revised health guidelines regarding masks, PM Lee said that the Government will be distributing reusable masks to all households starting 5 April.
Separately, in a Facebook post on the same day, Home Affairs Senior Parliamentary Secretary Sun Xuelin shared that she is involved in the packing of reusable cloth face masks sewed by a group of senior volunteers over the past month.
Noting that the reusable cloth face masks are for elderly and children in her GRC, she said, “These cloth face masks are not as good as surgical masks but we are also aware that some elderly residents prefer cloth based products. So this is just an extra option for our families.”
POFMA has been used against COVID-19 ‘fake news’ before
On the issue of fake news relating to the pandemic, on 13 February, the MOH issued a clarification notice to correct and clarify a number of falsehoods that were published by the States Times Review (STR) Facebook page regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.
One of the things STR said that the MOH claims is false was that the government is the only party that requests the public not to wear masks.
To this, MOH said that guidelines by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) notes that it is unnecessary for those who are well and healthy to wear masks. WHO’s guideline, according to MOH, advises people to practice good hygiene, such as regularly washing hands.
This was, of course, in mid-February, when the outbreak was s in its early stages of spreading around the world and before the WHO declared it a global pandemic.
Following that, a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) was issued by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to the editor of STR, Mr Alex Tan, in regards to the falsehoods contained in that post.
Mr Gan also ordered that a targeted correction direction be issued to Facebook, which hosted that particular 13 Feb post by STR.
In a statement, the Pofma office said that several false statements were made by STR in a Facebook post on 13 February. The office then laid out the statements by Mr Tan which they say were false on the government fact-checking website, Factually, and proceeded to debunk them.