SINGAPORE - Most Singaporeans left home on Wednesday (April 15) with half their faces covered as the nation starts donning masks, a mandatory move in its fight to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Those who fail to do so will be fined from Thursday onwards: $300 for the first offence and $1,000 fine for the second offence. Egregious cases will face prosecution in court.
Though many interviewed said they understood the need for a mask when out and about, some said they found it difficult to breathe after 30 minutes.
Housewife Clara Chan said she wore one while walking to a nearby supermarket but had to remove it after 10 minutes.
"I needed to breathe and felt I would have fainted otherwise. Singapore's hot weather makes it very difficult to wear a mask for long," said the 57-year-old.
Psychotherapist Amanda Ang, 32, described it as a necessary discomfort.
"It is not very easy to breathe when wearing one. Also, it gets wet from perspiration and makes things even more uncomfortable."
But the discomfort may have its benefits, she added with a laugh. "Maybe because they are so uncomfortable, more people will stay at home now."
The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all, except for children younger than two year old.
They are also not required of those doing strenuous exercise such as running or jogging.
The Health Ministry said it will be flexible in enforcing the rule on some who may have difficulties wearing a mask, like children with special needs.
Financial adviser Vincent Kumar, 36, found it difficult to wear a mask initially but stuck with it, as "it is the responsible thing to do", he said.
"I'm very wary of the virus so I've been wearing a mask for about a month. It isn't the most comfortable thing but we must all play our part."
Civil servant Ginny Goh, 45, said her family has been doing it for the last few weeks. Her three teenage children found them inconvenient at the beginning but are now used to it.
She added: "I'm not surprised at the fines for not wearing a mask, as not everyone has cooperated in complying with the safe distancing measures. Hopefully, this will make everyone fall in line."
Enforcement of social distancing measures has intensified in the past week.
Nearly 3,000 enforcement officers and ambassadors from about 50 agencies have been deployed daily to public spaces in HDB estates, to ensure people keep a safe distance from one another.
As of Tuesday, more than 500 fines have been issued to individuals for flouting the rules. This includes people who eat at hawker centres instead of buying the food and taking it home to eat.
Earlier this week, the Municipal Services Office (MSO) introduced a safe distancing feedback category on its OneService app that allows people to report on municipal matters.
Daily, about 700 reports are received, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Parents told The Straits Times that explaining the need to wear masks to their young children can be a challenge.
Ms Marianne Wee-Slater said her daughters, Isadora, 10, and Lila, five, find them uncomfortable.
"They don't comprehend why they need to wear a mask all the time. Plus, the reusable masks we got from the Government do not fit my younger daughter.
"It keeps falling off her face," said the 41-year-old director of a public relations agency.
She has ordered some children masks made of printed cloth online.
"I got some Pokemon masks because my children love the characters and I hope it will motivate them to wear their mask."
When to wear masks
From April 14, everyone in Singapore is required to wear a mask when he leaves his home. Here are some clarifications about the mask rules here.
Q. When should I wear a mask?
A. You will have to put on a mask every time you step out of your home. You will also have to keep them on when taking public transport, in taxis, in private hire cars and in markets, among other places. Workers in essential services must also not remove their masks at their workplace.
Q. When can I remove my mask when I'm outside?
A. You can do so only while engaging in strenuous exercise such as running and jogging, but you must put the mask back on once this is completed.
Q. Does my child have to wear a mask too?
A. For child safety reasons, mask-wearing is not recommended for children below two.
Q. Will I be fined if I do not wear a mask outside my home?
A. Yes. First-time offenders will be fined $300, and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court.
The Government will, however, exercise flexibility in its enforcement, with the understanding that some groups, such as children with special needs, may have difficulties wearing a mask.