Coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus: Singapore looking for new sources for masks

A member of the public collecting her face masks in Hougang on Feb 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Singapore is looking for new sources of supply for masks and developing capabilities to manufacture them locally as other Asian countries clamp down on mask exports, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong has said.

"In recent weeks, some places like Taiwan, Thailand and India have banned or tightened regulations on the export of masks," he said in a written parliamentary reply on Tuesday.

"We are therefore strengthening the resilience of our supply chain, including looking for new sources, and developing local manufacturing capabilities."

The Government is taking proactive steps to secure essential supplies such as masks, Mr Wong said. "In peacetime, we had built up a stockpile of surgical and N95 masks. As we draw down on this stockpile, we will also need to replenish it with new supplies."

He was responding to Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who had asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong what lessons can be learnt from the coronavirus situation and what can be improved upon to better prepare Singaporeans for a pandemic outbreak.

Mr Gan had also asked if the Government will include the production of masks and other medical protective gear as a strategic facility, and support investment in such a facility here.

Mr Wong, responding on behalf of PM Lee, said lessons drawn from various infectious disease outbreaks that the country has faced - including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), H1N1, Zika and monkeypox - have improved its readiness for the next outbreak.

"Over the years, we have strengthened our epidemiological surveillance and containment capabilities, and held regular emergency preparedness exercises to keep ourselves operationally ready," he said, adding that the setting up of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases has enhanced the country's capabilities to manage a disease outbreak.

Mr Wong said all healthcare institutions were alerted when Covid-19 emerged, with precautionary measures put in place according to the Government's response plans.

"Even before Singapore had its first confirmed case, we anticipated that we would need a whole-of-government effort to respond effectively to this threat," he added.

The multi-ministry coronavirus task force, set up on Jan 22 to coordinate responses, has since put in place a range of measures, from border controls to extra precautions within Singapore.

Mr Wong said: "We will continue to do everything we can to keep Singaporeans safe, and to overcome this challenging situation together."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Singapore looking for new sources for masks. Subscribe