SINGAPORE - More than 100,000 households have collected their free masks on the first day of Temasek Foundation's mask distribution exercise.
Under the fifth such distribution exercise by Temasek Foundation, each household can collect 50 medical-grade surgical masks and 25 N95 respirator masks at selected malls and supermarket outlets islandwide from Thursday to Sept 26.
"As at 6pm on Aug 26, we received nearly 105,000 redemptions for a set of medical-grade masks, comprising 50 pieces of surgical masks and 25 pieces of N95 masks," a Temasek Foundation spokesman told The Straits Times.
Queues began forming more than an hour before distribution began at some malls on Thursday morning, with safe distancing ambassadors reminding people to maintain their distance while lining up.
Over at Lot One shopping mall in Choa Chu Kang, mall staff could be seen directing early birds to come back later, or to scan a QR code and join a virtual queue.
One such person was Madam Tan, who arrived at the mall around 9.30am.
"I came because (I thought) people may be kiasu, I was worried people would come and queue early," said the retired typist, who declined to give her full name.
She said that when she had previously tried to collect free vitamin D supplements during Temasek Foundation's distribution exercise in March this year, supplies had run out by the second day, so she thought it best to arrive early for this month's mask distribution exercise.
At Junction 8 mall in Bishan, most of those in line were seniors, some of whom were unhappy about having to wait to collect their masks.
Retired communications professional Michael Loh, 68, said he felt that communication about where to collect the masks had been poor. He added that staff should have been more flexible about allowing people to collect the masks before the 11am collection time.
"Have some discretion, flexibility and compassion for people. If we come early, let us collect the (masks)," he said, adding that a majority of those in line were retirees going for their morning shopping.
Nevertheless, the distribution was smooth after it kicked off, with people queueing and collecting their masks in an orderly manner.
Members of the public had to take along their SP utilities bill to collect the masks. No bags were provided, and some who did not have their own bags with them were seen stacking boxes in their arms.
Mr Habi, who goes by only one name, said: "I think using the SP bill instead of NRIC is good because it's just a piece of paper - I'm worried that if NRICs are used, old people may drop and lose their NRICs. I'm okay with bringing my own plastic bag because they are giving free masks after all."
The 60-year-old refinery worker, who collected his masks at Lot One shopping mall, added that his only issue had been the waiting time before the distribution exercise commenced.
But not everyone was aware of the need to have their bills with them. Some people were turned away at Prime Supermarket in Hougang because they did not do so.
Elsewhere, others were turned away when stocks ran out around noon.
One such person was 64-year-old Madam Goh Bian Bian, who visited Cold Storage in Heartland Mall in Hougang around noon, without knowing the masks were already out of stock.
The fishmonger said: "I found out about the mask exercise reading the papers in the morning, but when I ended my shift, the masks were all taken. It can't be helped. I'll just return tomorrow."
Retiree Philip Soh, 68, visited the Prime Supermarket in Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1 at 12.30pm only to find that there were no more masks.
The former worker in the heavy equipment industry noted that the supervisor there had said more stocks were on the way.
But he added: "Temasek should look at the queue and demand at each location and replenish stocks, rather than call in new stock only when everything runs out. If stock runs out, some people are going to panic and it will worsen the situation."
Madam Chai, a retired supermarket worker, arrived around 1pm, also to be told there was no more stock.
The 69-year-old, who declined to give her full name, said: "I decided to come down to collect only if there was no queue, because I'm uncomfortable with queueing up with the ongoing pandemic. I won't be coming down earlier just to collect the masks. There is no rush to collect, we have one month to do so anyway."
Asked about the supplies seemingly running out, Temasek Foundation said that although collection points may run out of masks temporarily, there is sufficient stock available, and residents can either visit the other collection points nearby or come back on another day.
"There are typically longer queues and high demand during the first few days of collection. There is no need to rush, and residents can save time by collecting later in the distribution period from next week onwards. Each collection point has a steady supply of masks and is restocked when needed," said a spokesman for the foundation.
Ms Karen Ng, the 62-year-old branch manager of Prime Supermarket at Block 159a Hougang Street 11, said each supermarket is responsible for ordering its supply of masks from Temasek Foundation.
She said that on Thursday, she had a stock of about 200 sets of masks. At 1.35pm, about 120 had already been redeemed.
Ms Ng added that she had timed another resupply around 3pm, with 200 more masks on the way. Another 400 may arrive on Friday.
She said that she would need to keep a close eye on supplies to ensure there would be enough for people when they came to collect their masks.
"After all, we said they would be available from 11am to 8pm," she said.