SINGAPORE, Jan 30 — Masks will be made available to all Singaporean households over a week from Saturday (Feb 1), as a one-time government release.
Personnel from the Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Defence (Mindef), Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and People’s Association said at an inter-ministry briefing on the Wuhan virus outbreak that a pack of four surgical masks will be distributed to each of the 1.37 million Singapore households between Feb 1 and Feb 9. Based on latest official statistics, the average household size in Singapore is 3.24 as of 2018.
The masks will be made available progressively at the 89 community centres (CCs) and 654 Residents’ Committee (RC) Centres.
Priority will be given to areas with a high number of vulnerable residents, rental block residents and Pioneer Generation members.
The distribution will start from 2pm on Feb 1 at some CCs and RC centres.
From Feb 2 to Feb 9, the masks will be distributed progressively to more CC and RC centres in public and private housing estates.
Between Feb 2 and Feb 9, collection hours are between 10am and 9pm.
To collect the masks, residents will have to bring along their NRIC for verification.
They can find more information on the mask distribution on RC notice boards, digital display panels and social media platforms.
The announcement comes as long queues have formed outside pharmacies islandwide as people are clamouring to buy masks, and retailers have reported that their stocks of surgical masks and N95 masks are sold out.
The MOH reiterated at the briefing that surgical masks serve as adequate protection for the general public.
Sufficient masks available
During the briefing, the MTI said that it is aware that there has been concern over the availability of masks, but added that there are sufficient stocks of surgical masks available in Singapore if they are used when needed.
However, it added, people have been using masks when they do not need to.
Masks are not required for people who are well, the MTI said, adding that people should not use a mask if they are not ill.
Instead, the masks are meant to be used when someone is unwell but has to leave the house to seek medical attention. The mask then helps prevent the unwell person from spreading a virus to others.
“If we do not manage the private utilisation rate and prioritise allocation, we can end up in a situation where we deprive essential health services of masks as well as those who really need it.”
Speaking to reporters at the briefing, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the national stockpile of masks will be prioritised for healthcare workers.
He added that it is evident based on data that the Government has seen in recent days that the current rate of consumption of masks in Singapore is not sustainable.
“And it is not sustainable especially with the global shortage and the likely export bans that we have to be prepared for,” he said.
“To give an illustration, over the last nine days, the Government released more than 5 million surgical masks from our stockpile to retailers. The retailers have been controlling the point of sale – they control (so that) every customer (can buy only) one box. But the masks were snapped up in hours and you still hear people saying that when I need a mask, I am unable to access them.”
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing added that the usage rate of masks in the last week has been “much higher than what would be normally expected”.
“We understand when people are fearful, and have a tendency for them to panic buy, but this is not very useful to the entire system,” he said.
“If we do not manage private usage rate and prioritise the allocation, we will deprive our essential services and healthcare services of the masks, and this will in turn jeopardise our entire healthcare system – not allowing us to take care of those who need it the most.”
The MTI said it is sourcing for new mask suppliers while also ramping up purchase of supplies from traditional suppliers.
There is a global shortage of masks, the ministry added, and some places such as Taiwan have placed restrictions on the export of masks as the situation continues to develop.
The MTI said that Singapore will have to judiciously manage its supply of masks to ensure that healthcare workers and the most vulnerable in society are well taken care of.
And so, priorities of resupplies will be to medical institutions, it said.
Mr Chan added that for households who already have their own supply of masks, there is no need for them to rush to collect the Government-distributed ones.
“This is not a set of masks for us to take, open it immediately and go to the hawker centre. These masks are to be kept in the household for members of the family who might need to access medical help.”
He noted that some reporters at the briefing had asked whether households with more than four members should be given more masks.
To that, he responded: “(The masks) are not for everyone to wear immediately. It is for people who are falling sick and are going to seek medical help. The doctors and medical institutions will follow up and provide the necessary supplies.”
Retailers to justify high prices of masks
Meanwhile, the MTI said at the same briefing that it will be sending letters to retailers and e-commerce platforms where masks are being sold at high prices.
Specifically, the MTI named Deen Express, Carousell, Qoo10 and Lazada.
TODAY reported yesterday that Carousell and Qoo10 are threatening to suspend sellers who persist in charging highly inflated prices to take advantage of the situation in order to make money.
MTI said the retailers will have to provide information to the ministry on “the basis of the prices that they set, the cost price of their masks and why they have set the prices as such”.
The e-commerce platforms, meanwhile, will be asked to provide information to the authorities on errant sellers on their platforms.
Mr Chan added that while the vast majority of Singaporeans are staying calm and helping to manage the mask supply situation for the long haul, there are some in the local community who have taken to hoarding local supplies.
“Such behaviours are not appropriate. They are selfish, and they are not helpful for collective defence,” he said.
“Collective defence is our strongest defence. We must all act in unison, act together and not jeopardise the system by doing things that we think might benefit ourselves, protect ourselves, but to the detriment to everyone else in the society.” — TODAY