Coronavirus: Surgical masks being conserved for healthcare workers, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Healthcare workers with surgical face mask at Tan Tock Seng Hospital seen on Jan 30, 2020.
Healthcare workers with surgical face mask at Tan Tock Seng Hospital seen on Jan 30, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore will conserve surgical masks for healthcare workers even as it revises its stance on wearing face masks amid the Covid-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We still want to conserve surgical masks for the people who really need them - healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals," he said in a national address yesterday.

"For everyone else, in a community setting, alternatives like reusable masks will give some added protection."

Earlier on in the outbreak, the Government had been discouraging people who are well from wearing masks.

However, PM Lee announced that it will now stop doing so and will give a reusable mask to each resident.

This is because evidence exists that people who show no symptoms can pass the virus to others, and that there are some cases which have not been detected out in the community.

Surgical masks are medical devices. They are designed to be fluid resistant and are able to filter bacteria more effectively than reusable masks made of cloth or paper.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force fighting the Covid-19 outbreak, said surgical masks are essential for healthcare workers to get the necessary protection while treating patients.

"But for the general population, some form of mask, even a reusable mask, can serve as a physical barrier and can provide some basic protection," he said.


The minister added that for the general public, the main precaution they can take now is to stay at home and wear a reusable mask if they have to go out for essential activities that might result in them coming into close contact with other people.

Mr Wong also noted that there is a global shortage of surgical masks, which makes their conservation for healthcare workers essential.

In the meantime, Singapore is trying to replenish supplies and build up some local capabilities to manufacture the masks, he added.

On Singapore's stockpile of reusable masks, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said: "We have planned for this for some time. And this is why we have the ready stock in our country."

Toh Ting Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2020, with the headline 'Surgical masks being conserved for healthcare workers: PM'. Subscribe