Singapore has been ramping up its domestic production of surgical masks since mid-February to meet the needs of healthcare workers.
The decision to quickly establish local production capabilities for surgical masks came about shortly after the coronavirus outbreak started in China, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing revealed yesterday.
"The local production capabilities are designed to make sure our healthcare system is sustainable."
Then, the Government knew there would be a severe global mask shortage and had to urgently conserve the country's stockpile of surgical and N95 masks for its own healthcare workers, said Mr Chan.
It did not help that some earlier arrangements with overseas partners to produce surgical masks could not be realised, as countries imposed export controls on medical supplies.
Singapore took several strategies, including looking for new sources of surgical masks and stockpiling reusable cloth masks.
It decided to make surgical masks locally, even though it was not an easy task. For instance, each layer in a three-ply surgical mask can come from a different supplier.
"It is not just simply about having the machines and manpower to produce the masks, but also to secure a sustainable supply of raw materials," Mr Chan said, adding that Singapore's local production capabilities then had been for N95 masks.
The first made-in-Singapore surgical mask rolled off a production line run by ST Engineering in mid-February.
Mr Gareth Tang, head of ST Engineering's open innovation lab Innosparks, said staff had to put together the equipment, ensure the supplies arrive and train workers to manufacture the masks. "It was challenging, with the global supply chain disruption. We had to rapidly source from multiple suppliers."
In a Facebook post, Mr Chan said of Singapore's mask production capabilities: "We were unable to speak about them publicly earlier as we were concerned that our future production lines and raw materials would be interdicted by others, given the critical demand for surgical masks then."