SINGAPORE — A pack of four surgical face masks will be given to each of the 1.37 million households in Singapore, said the multi-ministry taskforce on the Wuhan coronavirus on Thursday (30 January).
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the taskforce, told reporters during a briefing session at the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI) that the distribution is a "one-time exercise" that will utilise the country’s national stockpile of face masks.
“We are doing this to assure Singaporeans that every family will have access to masks if someone in your family really needs it,” he said.
Wong urged Singaporeans to use the masks “responsibly” and not to open the pack up immediately unless necessary.
“Use it only if you are unwell and have to go out and see a doctor. At the end of the day, the masks do not confer automatic protection against the virus.
“In fact, wearing masks may give you a false sense of security. The best thing that everyone should do is to uphold good personal hygiene; wash your hands with soap frequently and, if you’re sick, don’t go out.”
Collection of masks at CCs and RCs from 1 Feb
The masks will be made available at 89 Community Centres (CCs) and 654 Residents' Committee (RC) centres, with priority given to areas with vulnerable residents such as children and the elderly. Distribution will start on Saturday (1 February) and should be completed within eight days.
From 1 to 5 February, masks will be distributed first at RC centres within HDB. They will then be distributed at CCs starting from 6 February for private estate residents and HDB residents who had not collected them.
Residents must bring their NRICs to collect the masks, with collection hours from 2pm to 10pm on 1 February, and 10am to 9pm on subsequent days.
The masks will be packed and delivered to the CCs by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), where they will be distributed by the People's Association. Some 200,000 masks will be packed by national servicemen each day, with packing to be completed in a week.
Priority will be given to areas with high numbers of vulnerable residents, as well as rental block residents and Pioneer Generation residents. For residents who are not able to collect the masks themselves, the People's Association will mobilise volunteers to send the masks to them.
Residents can check RC noticeboards, digital display panels, and the Government's social media platforms on when and where to collect the masks.
Prioritise re-supply of masks to medical institutions
During the briefing session, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore will have enough masks for its residents – provided they are managed “appropriately”.
Since the Wuhan virus taskforce announced confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Singapore, there have been long queues and empty shelves at several health-product retail outlets, as residents snapped up face masks, thermometers and hand sanitisers.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry had released 5 million masks to retailers in the past nine days. To ensure mask availability, it plans to source for new suppliers, ramp up purchases for traditional sellers and prioritise the re-supply of masks to medical institutions.
“The usage rate in the last week has been much higher than expected,” Chan said. “But we understand when people are fearful there is a tendency for them to panic buy or hoard.
“However, if we do not manage the personal mask usage rate, we may jeopardise our healthcare system.”
Profiteering retailers will be taken to task
Chan also warned retailers will be taken to task if they attempt to profiteer from the Wuhan virus situation by raising the price of face masks. Warning letters will be sent to such errant sellers.
Singling out Deen Express for selling masks at high prices, Chan said the retailer will be required to explain the basis of the prices set, the cost price of their mask and its reasons for doing so.
On the other hand, Chan applauded efforts by e-commerce platforms such as Lazada, Qoo10 and Carousell to weed out such profiteering, and said that they will be asked to cooperate with the ministry and provide information on errant sellers.