SINGAPORE - A Singaporean company has come up with an invention that could significantly extend the lifetime of masks, which are now facing a global shortage.
The Gill Mask, as it is known, is a reusable face mask that can be fitted with a filter made from just one-sixth of the material used in a standard surgical mask.
It consists of a silicone face piece with straps that fit over a user's face, but the mouth area is a detachable cartridge that can be fitted with a filter.
Users can create their own filter by cutting out a small piece of a surgical mask and inserting it into the cartridge, which is then slotted back into the mouth area of the Gill Mask.
As the rest of the mask is airtight, this means that any air being breathed in or out will pass through only the filter.
When the filter needs to be changed, the user simply removes it, cuts out another piece of the same surgical mask and slots it into the cartridge. The rest of the Gill Mask can be washed in boiling water or with disinfectants.
Mr Jean-Luc Fringeli, director of Mdesign Solutions, which developed the mask, said on Monday (March 30): "We asked ourselves - why do we use a full surgical mask (if we only) breathe on a very small surface? It's not efficient at all - the use of the raw filter material in the masks.
"So we said, why not have a smaller filter piece that comes from the existing surgical mask supply?"
The mask's design was inspired by scuba-diving masks, he added.
Mr Cheong Siah Chong, a Mdesign Solutions director, noted that the mask's airtight nature means it provides more protection than surgical masks, which have openings on their sides.
And unlike surgical masks, the Gill Mask's filter does not touch the user's nose or mouth, reducing the amount of moisture that it comes in contact with, which in turn prolongs its lifespan.
"It provides more protection with less material, and is more sustainable in the long term," Mr Cheong said.
Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam said: "Conceptually, it's brilliant... I honestly like it very much."
Dr Leong, who practises at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, noted that the masks, which have a lifespan of around two years, might come in handy in future haze crises as well.
But he added that their effectiveness might be limited by a user wanting to touch his nose or face, and by how well it fits on the face.
"I have concerns because it's almost like an N95 mask - the issue with (those) is that your face will feel extremely uncomfortable after a while, and you'll need to touch it and scratch it. So a lack of comfort would discourage its continued use," he added.
Mr Fringeli noted that the Gill Mask is harder to breathe in than a surgical mask, but said it was a trade-off between safety and breathability, and would be useful for people "whose activities don't require them to exert themselves a lot".
Their company has already engaged factories around the globe to produce about 300,000 masks, 1,000 of which are being shipped to Singapore, where they will be sold online and possibly at physical retailers for about $25 each.
Mr Cheong said the company is also engaging various public hospitals here to work on developing a variant of the mask that is tailored to healthcare workers' needs.