People will have to wear face masks instead of face shields when they leave home, following a review of an earlier policy in which either option had been allowed.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday that the task force combating the Covid-19 outbreak has decided that face shields are not as effective as masks in reducing the risk of virus transmission.
"We know that Covid-19 is spread predominantly through droplets," said Mr Gan.
"While face shields may provide some protection, the design of face shields typically leaves a gap between the face and the shield, which means that the wearer could still be depositing droplets. This is unlike masks."
An infected person wearing a face shield would be more likely to spread Covid-19 to someone else, compared with a person wearing a face mask.
Only specific groups will be allowed to wear face shields in place of face masks.
They include teachers, for whom wearing masks while teaching may not be practical. Those with medical conditions which prevent them from wearing face masks, such as those with breathing difficulties, will also be exempt.
Children aged 12 and below are also allowed to continue wearing face shields.
Mr Gan, who acknowledged that it is uncomfortable for people such as hawkers to wear masks for prolonged periods, said: "We know wearing masks is very uncomfortable, especially if you need to wear it the whole day... But it is important to do so."
The Health Ministry had said that all types of masks, including face shields, and reusable and homemade masks, would offer adequate basic protection for the general public.
Mr Gan said the Government had reviewed its policy in line with the partial lifting of the circuit breaker starting today, which would lead to more contact between people at the workplace and in the community.
WHY MASKS SHOULD BE THE DEFAULT
It is important for us to understand the reason why we want to insist that masks should be the default. This is to protect individuals and to protect your loved ones, and to protect your friends or your co-workers that are around you, and also to protect the customers that you are serving... We know wearing masks is very uncomfortable, especially if you need to wear it the whole day, including for hawkers. We can understand that under the circumstances, it is very, very challenging. But it is important to do so.
HEALTH MINISTER GAN KIM YONG, on why face shields cannot be a substitute for face masks.
"Therefore, safe distancing measures, personal hygiene and the use of masks will become more important to help prevent the spread of Covid-19," he said.
But he noted that face shields will continue to play a comple-mentary role, by shielding the eyes, for instance.
The Health Ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the review of face shields was made on the need to be cautious.
"Face shields may continue, however, to augment the use of masks but the mask wearing will be the default," he said.
"If a face shield is worn, it has to be worn in such a way that it is worn properly to cover the entire face from the forehead to below the chin, wrapping around the sides of the face."
Associate Professor Mak said flexibility will be exercised initially in enforcing the wearing of masks. The aim of enforcement officials will be to educate and encourage people to do the right thing, he added.
"But certainly, we will identify people who are recalcitrant, who are not wearing masks when they should be wearing masks... These are situations where we will have to enforce the rule."
He said that people doing television broadcasts are also currently exempted from wearing face masks or shields. This will continue as long as their work is carried out in a safe and controlled environment.
"Notwithstanding the review of our mask and face shield policy... we would still advise the general public to stay at home if they don't have anything necessary to do outdoors," he said.