As Singapore enters its Phase 1 of the circuit breaker exit period on Tuesday (2 June), the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that face shields cannot be used as a substitute to face masks, adding that face shields can only be worn under specific circumstances and by selected groups such as children aged 12 and below.
Speaking on Monday (1 June) during a press conference conducted by the multi-ministry task force set up to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at MOH, said that the Ministry has come to a decision to no longer treat face shields the same as masks.
“Face shields cannot replace masks in the majority of settings to prevent ourselves from being exposed to (COVID-19) infection from others,” he remarked.
Prof Mak added that the masks are still the “default” protective gear to wear when stepping out of homes in order to stem the spread of the highly contagious virus.
Individuals who are allowed to wear face shields
As to who are permitted to wear face shields, Prof Mak noted that besides kids aged 12 and below, individuals with health problems who may be subjected to breathing issues or other medical difficulties when a mask is donned for an extended period of time can opt for face shields.
Additionally, those who speak to a group in a classroom or lecture-style setting “where they largely remain at the spot from which they are speaking, and are able to maintain a safe distance away from any other persons” will be allowed to wear face shields.
According to MOH, television presenters are also exempted from wearing a face shield or mask while they are on the job, as long as they observe the safe distancing measures that are in place during the recording process.
However, even if some individuals are permitted to wear a face shield, they have to ensure that it is worn “properly” so that it covers the entire face – from the forehead to below the chin, with the sides of the face be wrapped as well.
Prof Mak went on to say that face shields can be used on top of a mask for extra precaution, hinting that it can even prevent masks from getting wet.
“For example, wearing a shield can help to protect one’s eyes from droplets that may contain virus particles, and can also prevent the mask from getting wet. It may also help to stop people from adjusting their masks or touching their faces.”
Although MOH has now revised its guidelines, in April, it stated on its website that any mask – including face shields – can be used as a protective gear as long as it offers “adequate basic protection” for those who need to leave their homes during the circuit breaker period.
“Any mask including reusable masks, DIY masks or plastic mask shield, offer adequate basic protection,” the Ministry added.
However, it is no longer permitted under the updated guidelines as Singapore reopens its economy.
“With effect from June 2, we expect greater community interaction and contact among people, including on the public transport. Therefore the use of masks will become the default,” said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is also part of the multi-ministry task force, in Monday’s press conference.
Going into the details of the updated guidelines, MOH explained that COVID-19 spreads mainly through droplets, suggesting that the design of the face shields have a gap between the face shield and the user’s face.
“Masks that are worn closely and completely over the nose and mouth do not have such gaps,” the Ministry noted.
Public plays “more critical” role post-circuit breaker
Prof Mak asserted in the press conference that the role of individuals in Singapore will become “even more critical” when the circuit breaker comes to an end. This is because there will be fewer restrictions in place.
He added that the decision to only allow wearing face masks and not face shields under general circumstances was made by the Government on the basis of being “more cautious”.
“Face shields may continue to augment the use of masks, but mask-wearing will be the default,” Prof Mak stressed.
He continued, “We appeal to everyone to continue to stay at home and avoid going out, except for essential services as well as to buy essential items, or to work, where telecommuting is not possible.”
For those who caught wearing a face shield without a valid reason, they would “face the same penalty as if you are not wearing a mask”, said Mr Gan.
If found guilty, offenders can face a fine of S$300 for the first offence. Repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court for egregious cases.
U-turn in mask policy
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Singapore early this year, the Government has been changing its stance on mask-wearing.
At the beginning, the Government announced that members of the public should not wear masks if they are well, asserting that masks should only be worn by individuals who are sick.
However, on 3 April, the Government made a slight “U-turn”, saying that the authorities will “no longer discourage people from wearing masks”.
Then on 14 April, the Government made a complete “U-turn”, announcing that it is now mandatory for everyone to wear a mask when stepping out of the house – but there are some exceptions.