SINGAPORE - All 1.37 million households in Singapore will be given four surgical masks each, the Government announced on Thursday (Jan 30) even as it reiterated that only people who are unwell should be wearing them.
The Ministry of Health also announced on Thursday night that Singapore has three more confirmed cases of people down with the virus.
All are Chinese nationals from Wuhan. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 13.
Earlier, the Government said that about 5.2 million masks will be given out and will be made available progressively from Saturday (Feb 1), at the 89 community centres (CC) and 654 residents' committee (RC) centres.
They should all be handed out by Feb 9.
The masks are free and can be collected only once for each household. Those collecting have to bring along their identity card.
Collection of masks for both public and private estates will start at RCs and CCs from 2pm on Saturday. From Feb 2 to Feb 9, masks can be collected from 10am to 9pm.
The masks will be delivered to those who are vulnerable and can't collect them.
About 5.2 million masks for over 1.3 million households will be given out this way, but over the past nine days, the Government has already released five million masks to retailers, it said.
While it stressed that there are enough masks here for those who need it, the authorities are sourcing for new mask suppliers, amid a global shortage, and ramping up new supplies from traditional suppliers.
Priorities of resupply will be to medical institutions.
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which has been working round-the-clock to pack the masks, will work with the People's Association to distribute the masks.
The SAF did a similar exercise during the haze crisis in 2013. Back then, over one million masks were given out through grassroots channels.
The 13 confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus in Singapore are all tourists from Hubei province.
Health experts here have said that there is no community spread of the virus, so there is no need for people who are well to wear masks.
Therefore, four masks per family should be enough, since it's unlikely for everyone to be sick.
If there are a number of people who are unwell in the same family and there is concern, they can call for assistance and help, and dedicated ambulances will be activated, the authorities said.
Masks are effective if not soiled or stained. It is not recommended to use them for more than 24 hours.
Meanwhile, those trying to make a quick buck by selling masks at inflated prices will be taken to task.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry said it will question retailers, including online platforms which have been selling masks at marked up prices, to provide information on the cost price of the masks to them and their reason for the high pricing.
If they are found to be profiteering, action can be taken against them under the Price Control Act.
On Wednesday, online mall Qoo10 removed a listing that advertised 30 "anti-coronavirus" masks for sale at $10,000. The listing claimed that the product was also "anti-pneumonia" and "anti-haze", and the merchant "US Buyer" said that the masks can be shipped from South Korea to Singapore.
It was listed for sale at $10,000 from Monday to Wednesday, before it was taken down.
On the reported shortage of hand sanitisers, health experts said they are not necessary, as frequently washing hands is enough.
Meanwhile, 92 Singaporeans from Wuhan arrived in Singapore on a Scoot flight on Thursday morning. The flight had left Singapore on Wednesday with a planeload of Wuhan-bound Chinese.
In a telephone call with China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan expressed the Singapore Government's appreciation to the Chinese government, Hubei provincial government, Wuhan city government, and the People's Republic of China Embassy in Singapore for facilitating the safe return of these Singaporeans.
The returning Singaporeans will undergo medical screening upon arrival at Changi Airport. Those with fever or respiratory symptoms will be taken to designated hospitals for further examination, while the remaining passengers, including the MFA Consular Officers who facilitated the return of these Singaporeans from Wuhan, will be quarantined for 14 days.
The World Health Organisation is considering issuing a global alarm, as the death toll from the spreading coronavirus has risen to 170 and the number of cases jumped.
There are close to 8,000 cases worldwide as the number of infections races towards that of the Sars outbreak in 2003.
The WHO said its Emergency Committee would reconvene behind closed doors on Thursday to decide whether the rapid spread of the new virus from China now constitutes a global emergency.
"In the last few days the progress of the virus especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva, naming Germany, Vietnam and Japan.
"Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak."