SINGAPORE - Masks with high filtration capabilities should be worn, especially when going to enclosed places with people in close proximity, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (May 18).
These include surgical masks or one with a filtration insert, and not just any cloth mask, he said as he urged Singaporeans to stay at home to slow the spread of Covid-19 during this "critical period".
Using the correct mask is important because of the latest evidence on how transmissible various Covid-19 strains are, and how they can spread through aerosols, said Mr Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force handling Covid-19.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday updated its guidance on the use of masks.
It said in a statement that all members of the public are recommended to use masks with good filtration capability, and these include reusable masks that are made of at least two layers of fabric, and surgical masks.
Reusable masks such as masks issued by the People's Association and Temasek Foundation also have good filtration efficiency, added MOH.
In a virtual press conference on Tuesday, Mr Wong said: "This is a very critical period for all of us in our fight against Covid-19. We know that the new variants are much more infectious than we had to deal with last year.
"There is growing evidence that new variants can spread through aerosolised particles, which means that all the precautions we are used to may not be sufficient to safeguard against the spread of the virus, and we need even more stringent measures."
That was why measures had to be stepped up recently, including not allowing dining in at eateries and having students do home-based learning, he said.
Additional curbs on activities were imposed for a month, starting on Sunday, including reducing group sizes for social interactions to two, down from five.
Mr Wong said that the effects of these measures will take about one to two weeks to be seen.
Covid-19 cases in the community have been on the rise in recent weeks, and multiple active clusters have emerged, after months of very low to zero such cases since late last year.
He said: "I have confidence that the latest measures... will have an impact in bringing numbers down, but we will only see this materialising one to two weeks later, because of the time lag in these measures.
"So what it means is that we will continue to assess the situation very carefully, we will consult our public health experts and see if there is a need to do any further tightening along the way."
Meanwhile, everyone has to do their part to slow down the spread of the virus, he said.
These include taking up the vaccine when it is available, staying home as much as possible and going out only for essential activities, and wearing masks that offer better protection, he added.
To get people to choose the right mask, guidelines will be issued to educate and encourage them on the benefits of using a proper mask.
At the same time, the Government will be working with sellers to ensure that the masks sold and distributed locally are of appropriate quality.
Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong also gave the assurance that Singapore currently has local production capacity for masks, with some local companies already producing their own surgical masks. Imports will also be ramped up, he added.
"We have a significant stockpile so there is no need to panic and rush to stock up on masks. Supplies will continue and there will be sufficient supply for all of us."
The MOH website states that for the public, a mask that "closely and completely covers the nose and mouth" must be worn.
People who have respiratory symptoms, and certain groups who are more vulnerable to or at risk of Covid-19 infection, should wear surgical masks or reusable masks with better filtration capabilities, said the website.
Since the pandemic began last year, the advisory on the wearing of masks has undergone several changes:
Jan 2, 2020
MOH issues a health advisory which, among other things, asks the public to wear a mask if they have respiratory symptoms like a cough or runny nose.
Jan 31, 2020
At a multi-ministry task force press conference, the co-chairs say that those who are well would not need to put on a mask to avoid catching the virus, and they would be better protected by cleaning their hands with soap and water regularly.
April 3, 2020
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says the Government will no longer discourage people who are well from wearing masks, in the wake of new evidence on asymptomatic transmission, and that the World Health Organisation, which Singapore takes its cue from, is reviewing its stance on masks.
April 14, 2020
It becomes mandatory for everyone to wear a mask when leaving home. The exceptions are only those doing strenuous exercise and children below the age of two.
April 16, 2020
From this date, those who fail to mask up are fined $300 on their first offence.