Masks with better filtration capabilities should be worn to help mitigate increased risks of Covid-19 transmission and infection, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday in its updated public guidance on face coverings.
Appropriate ones include surgical masks and those with a filtration insert.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chairman of the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, said at a virtual media conference yesterday that it is important to use masks with high filtration capabilities because of the latest evidence on the transmissibility of various Covid-19 strains and how they can spread through aerosols.
MOH recommends the public to use such masks, which include reusable masks that are made of at least two layers of fabric and surgical masks.
Reusable masks such as those issued by the People's Association and Temasek Foundation have good filtration efficiency, added MOH.
On the suitability of homemade masks, Mr Wong said guidelines will be put out to help the public understand what good quality masks are.
MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that good quality masks, when worn properly, provide an excellent form of protection against how the virus spreads, regardless of whether it spreads by droplets or some form of aerosolised transmission.
"Wearing the good masks properly makes sense and is the right thing to do.
"So, we are sharpening the guidance and advisories we are giving to make this clearer," he said.
Masks have been mandatory for people when they leave their homes since April 14 last year.
Under the previous MOH guidelines, surgical masks and reusable masks with better filtration capabilities were recommended for people who have respiratory symptoms and certain groups who are more vulnerable to or at risk of Covid-19 infection.
Associate Professor Mak said masks with adequate filtration efficiency would normally have this feature printed on the packaging.
Most, if not all, of the masks that have been distributed in public and community programmes meet that standard, he added.
"Be aware that the masks have a certain lifespan, and after you have used them and washed them beyond the recommended number, it is advisable to change and replace those masks."
Masks with exhalation vents will continue to be discouraged for use.
While they may be more comfortable and appropriate when there is haze, they are not adequate from a public health and infection control perspective, he added.
Asked whether mask supplies were adequate, especially with the stricter standards under the updated advisory, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said that his ministry had put in place local production capacity with several companies since last year.
"We are also looking at the possibility of continuing to ramp up our imports of these surgical masks.
"We also have built up significant stockpiles of these masks and, therefore, I would assure Singaporeans that there is no need to panic and no need to rush to buy additional masks, to stock up masks," he said.