Wuhan virus: Each Singapore household to get 4 free masks for contingencies

Sufficient supply of masks for all who need them, but people urged to use them responsibly

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All 1.37 million households in Singapore will be given four surgical masks each. The Government reiterated that only people who are unwell should be wearing them.

Amid the ongoing clamour for surgical masks, the authorities have said that Singapore has enough for those who need them and announced that all 1.3 million households in Singapore will be given four masks each.

But they also warned against the recent wave of panic buying that has seen these masks being snapped up and hoarded while governments globally try to contain the Wuhan virus.

"We will have sufficient supply of masks in Singapore, provided we all use them responsibly," National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday. He added: "You only wear a mask if you are not well and you have to go out to see a doctor. Those who are well do not need to wear a mask."

The move came on the same day that three new patients were announced, bringing the number of confirmed cases here to 13. All three are women and Chinese nationals from Wuhan.

The first is a 31-year-old who was a travelling companion of an earlier patient. The other two are a 73-year-old and a 37-year-old who arrived with their families on Jan 21 and Jan 22, respectively. The authorities have initiated contact tracing for all three cases.

It was also announced that about five million masks will be given out and will be made available progressively from 2pm tomorrow, at 89 community centres and 654 residents' committee centres. They should all be distributed by Feb 9.

The masks are free and can be collected only once for each household. Those collecting should have their identity card with them. The masks will be delivered to those who are vulnerable and cannot collect them.

Commenting on the move, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook: "I understand your concerns and frustrations about not being able to get masks at retail stores, given the recent rush all over Singapore to buy them. Five million masks have been released to retailers in the past nine days, but demand has been higher than anticipated."

While the authorities stressed that there are enough masks here for those who need them, they are sourcing for new suppliers, amid a global shortage, and ramping up supplies from traditional suppliers.

Priority for masks will be for essential services, especially medical personnel.

The Singapore Armed Forces, which has been working round the clock to pack the masks, will work with the People's Association to distribute them.

Health experts have said that there is no community spread of the virus here, so there is no need for healthy people to wear masks.

The masks are being distributed as a contingency measure so that someone who falls sick can wear them to go out and see a doctor, therefore four masks per family should suffice, they said.

The authorities said that if several people fall sick within the same family, they can call for assistance and dedicated ambulances will be activated to help them.

Meanwhile, those trying to make a quick buck by selling masks at inflated prices will be taken to task.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry said it will question retailers, including online platforms which have been selling masks at marked-up prices to provide information on the cost price of their masks and their reasons for the high pricing.

If they are found to be profiteering, action can be taken against them under the Price Control Act, including fines and jail terms.

On Wednesday, online mall Qoo10 removed a listing that advertised 30 "anti-coronavirus" masks for sale at $10,000.

Singapore is also keeping a watch over its citizens in the epicentre of the outbreak. Yesterday, 92 Singaporeans from Wuhan returned home on a Scoot flight that had ferried Chinese nationals there.

Meanwhile, some Singaporeans who have shown signs of the virus will remain in Wuhan until it is safe for them to travel, said Mr Wong.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2020, with the headline Wuhan virus: Each Singapore household to get 4 free masks for contingencies. Subscribe