SINGAPORE - Singaporeans should follow doctors' advice on how best to protect themselves from the Wuhan virus, which includes not wearing a mask unless they are unwell, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
"For individuals, you have to take the best advice on how best to protect yourself, and what is the best thing for us to do collectively as a community, in order to get through this safely and well," he said on Friday (Jan 31).
PM Lee also gave the assurance that there is sufficient supply of masks in Singapore.
"We have not run out; there are plenty. But if everybody wears one every day, well or not well... every day I'll need six million times three or four masks. And in that case, I will run out," he noted.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, he urged Singaporeans to practise good hand hygiene, pointing out that masks can lull the wearer into a false sense of security.
"The mask gives you a false sense of security because most of the time, you don't get the virus from breathing it in," he said. "You get it from contact, and you need to take the rest of the precautions - to wash your hands, to keep yourself clean, and to know you are unwell and to stay away from crowds."
He added: "If you are well, go about your life as normal."
PM Lee was also asked what measures are in place in the event that the virus begins spreading in the community.
At present, all 13 confirmed cases are Chinese nationals from Wuhan who began showing symptoms after they arrived in Singapore.
"I think we are not anywhere near that point. We do our best to make sure we prevent community spread," he replied. "If we are vigilant, if people come forward when they are unwell and we can identify the cases and isolate them, I think that we are a long way from having a community spread."
He noted that the Wuhan coronavirus, despite its similarities to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus, behaves somewhat differently.
For instance, it is probably more infectious than Sars, and possibly infectious even before people have symptoms, he said.
"But on the other hand, if you look at the data coming out from China, and even the cases we have here, it's not as lethal as the Sars virus. The death rate is much lower," he said.
He added that China is also reporting that although 20 per cent of cases become seriously ill, around half the infected people do not have pneumonia.
"It's an illness which we are still trying to get the shape of. I don't think we need to panic," he said.
At present, the Government is trying to look ahead to see what can go wrong, and take preventive steps, PM Lee said.
"If you see something didn't go wrong, it is not just: 'Heng ah, I'm very happy it didn't happen,'" he said. "It means we have done things which were right, and we are glad that it didn't have to be tested."