SINGAPORE — There will be a second round of distribution of reusable face masks towards the end of the circuit breaker period on 1 June, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Wednesday (6 May).
In a post on his Facebook page, Chan provided an update on the Singapore government’s plans on producing face masks to support the population’s needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the last few weeks, we have been working with local manufacturers and A*STAR to continue to improve the materials used for the reusable cloth masks, which has higher protective qualities and also more comfortable to wear for long period of time,” he said in his post.
“We are building up our supply of these improved reusable masks and once we have sufficient stock, we will work with People’s Association and Temasek Foundation to do a round of distribution to all residents in Singapore towards the end of the circuit breaker period.”
According to CNA, Chan said that there will also be mask vending machines that will operate even after work hours, and authorities will share more details at a later date.
Surgical mask production in Singapore began in February
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a lot of interest in Singapore’s mask strategies, in particular whether the country intends to establish domestic mask manufacturing capabilities, Chan said.
Before the pandemic, Singapore was only involved in the production of N95 masks. For surgical masks, it typically works with overseas partners to produce them.
When the outbreak first started in China, Chan said the government knew that there would be a “severe worldwide shortfall” in surgical masks, and had to urgently conserve surgical and N95 masks for the healthcare workers.
“While we had earlier established agreements to produce surgical masks with overseas partners, some of those plans eventually could not be realised and we decided quickly to then establish our own local production capabilities,” he added in his Facebook post.
The first made-in-Singapore surgical mask was produced in mid-February, one day after ST Engineering relocated its mask-producing machines back from Taiwan to Singapore.
According to CNA, Chan said the locally-produced surgical masks will go towards Singapore’s healthcare system, while surgical masks available to the public will continue to be sourced from multiple countries.
“While I know there have been many rumours and speculation about our mask production capabilities, we were unable to speak about them publicly earlier as we were concerned that our future production lines and raw materials would be interdicted by others, given the critical demand for surgical masks then,” Chan said.
Demand may spike again if infection wave recurs
Once medical evidence became clearer that mask-wearing would help minimise transmission of the coronavirus, Chan said the government activated its economic agencies and local manufacturers to begin producing and stockpiling reusable cloth masks, which were distributed to residents last month.
He said that Singapore cannot rule out the possibility of recurring waves of COVID-19 infection, which will mean that demand for surgical masks may spike again.
“We will continue to build a healthy stockpile of surgical masks for our population, in particular our frontline workers who require them the most,” he said.
“At the same time, we will not stop pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of technology to ensure that we overcome the challenges and generate a sustainable stream of supplies.”
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