Supply of masks in Singapore sufficient, no need to rush to buy them: Lam Pin Min

(From left) ST Logistics' head of the Healthcare Vertical Tang Chien Her, Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min, FairPrice group CEO Seah Kian Peng, FairPrice group Chief Procurement Officer Tng Ah Yiam and ST Logistics CEO Loganathan Ramasamy at a warehouse where masks are stockpiled. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF HEALTH

SINGAPORE - There are sufficient masks available in Singapore if people use them sensibly and responsibly, Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min has said.

"There is no need to rush to buy masks. We are working with retailers like NTUC FairPrice and Unity Pharmacy to push out the stocks," he added after visiting a warehouse to check on the mask stockpile with FairPrice group CEO Seah Kian Peng.

Dr Lam's comments, in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Jan 28), come amid reports on social media of masks running out in stores after Wuhan virus cases were detected here.

He said some retailers have started to ration the sale of masks in packages with a smaller quantity.

"This is to ensure there is adequate supply for Singaporeans and to prevent unnecessary hoarding," he added. "We are also working with retailers to manage pricing and we remind them not to profiteer from the increased demand."

On Tuesday evening, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) also urged all retailers to "practise corporate social responsibility and not take advantage of the increased demand to raise prices unreasonably".

MTI told The Straits Times that it will work closely with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore to monitor the situation and investigate any unfair and anti-competitive practices.

Consumers can report any errant sellers to Case by calling 6100-0315.

"We would also like to assure the public that there is sufficient supply of masks in Singapore if we use them sensibly and responsibly. There is no need to rush to buy masks," said MTI.

Checks by ST at pharmacies and convenience stores in Toa Payoh and Somerset on Tuesday also found that masks were out of stock.

A sign at the Unity outlet at Toa Payoh MRT station announced that masks were sold out, but customers continued to confirm this with employees at the store every now and then.

One of them was retired electronic retail shop owner Ho Kong Jiang, 85, who said he had been searching for surgical masks at various pharmacies for the past three days with no success.

At the Watsons outlet in Orchard Gateway, masks were not the only item out of stock. Hand sanitisers, thermometers and alcohol swabs were also sold out.

A Watsons spokesman said: "Items such as masks and hand sanitisers are seeing a high demand in all our outlets. We are working closely with suppliers of masks and sanitisers for replenishment of stocks this week and (in the) upcoming weeks to meet the high demand."

"Different stores would have differing stocks-on-hand quantity due to their locality," she added, noting that the store was seeing an increase in mask sales by 20 times compared with the same period last year.

Dr Lam said masks are generally not needed in normal daily activities as there is currently no local transmission of the Wuhan virus.

"However, do put on a face mask if you have respiratory symptoms like a cough or runny nose to prevent the spread of the flu or the common cold viruses. Above all, practise good personal hygiene by washing your hands frequently," he added.

The executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), Professor Leo Yee Sin, had also stressed last week that individuals without respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose need not wear a surgical mask as they are designed to reduce exposure of the wearer's respiratory secretions to others.

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