In the wake of “many rumours and speculation” on Singapore’s mask production capabilities, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing assured that government agencies have been working with local manufacturers to produce medical masks for healthcare workers in the country and reusable cloth masks for the public.
Mr Chan said in a Facebook post on Wednesday (6 May) that the Government had “decided quickly” to prop up Singapore’s local production capabilities after some of the “earlier established agreements” with overseas partners to produce masks had fallen through.
He noted that Singapore’s first locally made surgical mask “rolled off the production line in mid-February, one day after the machines arrived back” with the efforts of ST Engineering.
Touching on why the Government was unable to reveal details about Singapore’s mask production capabilities earlier, Mr Chan said that the Government was “concerned that our future production lines and raw materials would be interdicted by others, given the critical demand for surgical masks then”.
While Mr Chan did not specify the overseas partners with whom Singapore was not able to materialise certain agreements on mask production, it was reported last month that ST Engineering had shipped back its mask production equipment from Taiwan on 12 February.
Taiwan’s Finance Minister Su Jain-rong also confirmed that the Taiwanese government had also granted ST Engineering permission to send back the N95 masks it produced and which were already packed for export to Singapore,
The masks were not certified as medical-grade, Focus Taiwan reported Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs as saying.
Mr Su noted that the batch of N95 masks cleared Taiwan customs on 29 January.
Mr Chan’s Facebook post today appears to support the Taiwan government’s earlier claim that the two ST Engineering production lines had left Taiwan via the airport on 12 February.
The shipment followed Taiwan’s imposition of a ban on exporting masks from the country.
The ban was rolled out on 24 January and will take place until the end of June to conserve the country’s domestic supply of masks during the pandemic.
Mdm Ho Ching and pro-PAP fan page Facebook posts on S’pore sparks furore among Taiwan and S’pore netizens, raises concerns about adequacy of Taiwan-based S’pore mask supply
Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry last month stated that its bilateral policy with Singapore will be based on official statements made by the two countries and will not be influenced by “personal views of an individual”.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement was made in light of the backlash from Taiwanese netizens over a Facebook post made by Temasek Holdings CEO Ho Ching regarding a news report regarding Taiwan donating face masks to Singapore after the export ban.
Mdm Ho, who is also the wife of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, had ambiguously written “Errrr…” in a Facebook post on 11 April, which prompted Taiwanese netizens to ask Mdm Ho to explain the meaning of her post.
Many Taiwanese netizens also said that if Singapore is not interested in the donated masks, it can reject Taiwan’s offer.
Mdm Ho has since apologised for her post and has said that she is “forever grateful” for the assistance extended by Taiwan in donating its face masks to Singapore.
The matter escalated after Singapore Matters — a Pro-People’s Action Party (PAP) fan page — posted on Facebook on the same day, stating that small countries like Singapore are vulnerable in a global crisis, as all countries act to protect its own interest.
The post, which has since been removed and re-posted, heavily referenced the comments made by Mdm Ho about ST Engineering and the Taiwan government’s banning of mask exports. It also went on to insinuate that Taiwan was keeping the stock of masks from Singapore.
The Singapore Matters post noted that “Singapore would have way more than enough masks if not for Taiwan’s export ban”.
It referenced ST Engineering’s Taiwan-based production of the Air+ N95 and XS masks for the Singapore population.
“Upon the first news of coronavirus outbreak in China last year, ST Engineering was already briefed and instructed by the Singapore government to ram up its mask manufacturing,” the post read.
The post went on to say that the stock was scheduled to leave Taiwan for Singapore after Chinese New Year.
Soon after, however, the Taiwanese government decided to ban exports of all masks, which meant that ST Engineering was not able to deliver its masks to Singapore.
A notice on the Taiwan Ministry of Economy Affairs dated 23 January — a day before the export ban was imposed — added “masks made of textile materials with a filtration effect of 94% or more” and “other textile materials masks” on the restricted output goods list.
It also specifically noted, however, that if the exporter has already sold its stocks to a foreign client before 24 January and the company can provide the appropriate documentation to prove that payment has been made, those goods can be shipped out.
Essentially, if ST Engineering had already sold its stocks to Singapore prior to 24 January, the masks would have made it back to the country with no issues from the Taiwan government.
A Taiwanese legislator, Lin Chuyin, on 13 April shared in a Facebook post that the N95 masks produced by ST Engineering and had gone through Taiwanese Customs on 22 January were already shipped out on 29 January.
The chart on her post also noted that the shipment of 54 thousand masks was bound for South Korea and not Singapore.
Taiwan govt did not anticipate spike in COVID-19 cases in S’pore due to excellent outbreak management at the onset: Taiwan Health Minister
Head of Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) and Health Minister Chen Shih-chung acknowledged — in response to Taiwanese media’s queries regarding the controversy around Mdm Ho’s statement — that the face mask ban did affect Singapore’s face mask production for a short period of time.
Mr Chen, however, noted that the Taiwanese government had tried its best to facilitate the shipment of ST Engineering’s two production lines back into Singapore to allow them to go back into production as soon as possible.
He added that the Taiwanese government did not anticipate that Singapore would undergo a huge spike in COVID-19 cases as Singapore was doing very well in curbing the spread of the virus in the country.
At the time the ban was put in place, the Taiwanese Health Minister noted, both Taiwan and Singapore had only around 10 cases each.
The situation, he said, has since changed, which was why Taiwan was willing to step up and donate some of its masks to Singapore “on the basis of friendship”.
On Tuesday (5 May), Taiwan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said that it will be donating 1.8 million masks to several countries included in Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy, such as Southeast Asian countries — including Singapore.
The donation will mark Taiwan’s third round of mask donations since last month after boosting its mask production to 13 million per day, and then to 17 million by late April.