Masks to remain key even in Covid-19 new normal: Ong Ye Kung

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that masks remain a very important non-pharmaceutical intervention for reducing the spread of Covid-19.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that masks remain a very important non-pharmaceutical intervention for reducing the spread of Covid-19.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The wearing of masks will still be key after Singapore transitions to a new normal of living with endemic Covid-19, and may well be among the last of the measures that will be shed, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (July 1).

In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times' senior health correspondent Salma Khalik, Mr Ong said that masks remain a very important non-pharmaceutical intervention for reducing the spread of Covid-19.

“(The measure) may well be one of the last things we want to consider removing... And even if we remove (them), this is maybe just for safe environments, like open air areas,” said Mr Ong, noting that Israel recently reintroduced a requirement to wear masks indoors amid a rise in coronavirus cases, just 10 days after it lifted the measure.

Asked if this means that workers will continue having to wear masks when they return to offices, the minister added that this is something that the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 will have to mull over.

"Masks will allow us to do a lot more things, compared to not wearing masks... in terms of risk and reward, it is one of the most sensible things to do."

The requirement to wear masks had been the last remaining restriction in Israel after all other Covid-19 measures had been progressively reduced.

The country has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world at more than 59 per cent, and reintroduced the requirement after it recorded more than 100 new daily cases in consecutive days after registering zero cases in June.

Most of the cases have been linked to the more infectious Delta variant.

Officials from the World Health Organisation have also urged fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks and to keep taking other measures to prevent infection.

This is because while immunisation is highly effective in preventing severe illness and death, the degree to which vaccines guard against mild or asymptomatic infections is unknown.

Health officials in Los Angeles County on Monday also recommended that everyone wear a mask indoors in public places as a precautionary measure, regardless of vaccination status.

This comes after the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told fully vaccinated Americans in May that they no longer need to wear masks indoors or maintain a distance of about 2m from other people.

Read more from ST's exclusive interview with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung:
- S'pore could ease dining in rules from July 12 under 3-step plan
- Leisure travel may resume year end
- Getting Covid-19 could soon mean an MC, isolation and self tests
- Perks for those vaccinated not meant to be discriminatory
- 'Sleep, exercise, work, eat': Ong Ye Kung on life amid Covid-19
- Vaccination rate needed to keep Singapore safe from Covid-19