Wuhan virus: 6% of Singapore households collected masks on first day of distribution on Saturday

A resident collecting his masks at the collection counter at the Residents’ Committee centre at Block 47 Telok Blangah Drive. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
(From left) SPS Tan Wu Meng, SMS Janil Puthucheary, Minister Desmond Lee, Adviser to Telok Blangah Grassroots Organisations (GROs) Mr Lim Hng Kiang and SPS Baey Yam Keng thanking volunteers at the Residents’ Committee (RC) centre at Block 47 Telok Blangah Drive. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - At the end of the first day of the mask collection exercise here on Saturday (Feb 1), almost 6 per cent of all households have collected their masks, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Sunday.

"People have been very calm. There's been a steady stream of Singaporeans and households collecting the masks. There aren't any reports of anxiety or distress," he said after a visit to a mask collection centre at the Residents' Committee centre at Block 47 Telok Blangah Drive.

He said the authorities have paced out the distribution in order to ensure that it is orderly. The Government on Thursday announced that all 1.3 million households in Singapore would be given a pack of four masks each. Distribution began on Saturday and will end on Feb 9.

Mr Lee noted that some people have made inquiries about the availability of masks, but he reassured Singaporeans that every household will be given their allocation of four masks.

He said that public health challenges like the Wuhan virus are "invisible challenges" that may make people anxious, adding that the scramble for masks and other hygiene products is not unique to Singapore.

"We trust Singaporeans at a time of crisis like this to work in an orderly fashion with the community, to obtain the supplies that they need to safeguard themselves and their families," said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

While he acknowledged that the fear is "perfectly understandable", he said: "We need to be prudent in our usage of masks in order to be ready for the long haul if necessary."

To overcome this, Mr Lee said Singaporeans need to trust each other to take necessary precautions and exercise social responsibility.

He said that Singapore has multiple layers of defence against the Wuhan virus outbreak.

These include tighter border restrictions at the land, sea and air checkpoints. In the community, temperature-taking and other forms of health screening are being carried out, along with travel declarations.

Staff from the Ministry of Social and Family Development have been visiting facilities like pre-schools and homes for people with disabilities, to support front-line officers by running through specific public health plans and safeguards with them, and getting feedback on how to improve on working together.

Mr Lee also stressed the need to weed out falsehoods and inaccurate information during this crisis, and urged people to turn to official government channels for information.

The visit to the mask collection centre on Sunday was part of a Ministerial Community Walkabout, the 62nd one since the new format for 4G ministerial community visits was launched in July 2018.

Accompanying Mr Lee were Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Communications and Information, Mr Baey Yam Keng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Transport and Culture, Community and Youth, and Dr Tan Wu Meng, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry. They were hosted by Mr Lim Hng Kiang, who is an MP for West Coast GRC.

Mr Lee and Dr Janil are both part of the 10-member multi-ministry task force set up to direct the Government's response to the Wuhan coronavirus.

Mr Ayyavo Sinnasamy Somu, 73, who lives at Block 80B Telok Blangah Street 31, said the collection process for the masks was convenient for him.

"I saw the notice pasted at my lift lobby. It (the collection) is very peaceful, no stress. We can come anytime to collect, and I was in no rush to collect it yesterday."

Mr Ayyavo, who lives alone, said he will share his supply with his neighbours if they need masks.

"When I first heard about the virus, I thought. 'It's okay, we can handle it.' Singapore surely can do it, after all, we already came through the Sars crisis last time," added the technical officer in the power sector.

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