SINGAPORE - Around 1,500 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen are working round the clock to ensure that the 5.2 million masks to be delivered to Singapore households from Saturday (Feb 1) are packed in time.
The SAF is also helping with contact tracing, as well as manning thermal imagery machines at the airport to pick out travellers with fever.
Speaking with reporters on Friday (Jan 31) after observing the mask packing operations at Safti Military Institute in Joo Koon, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the packing was on track and households would be able to receive the masks on time.
Asked if he foresaw any impact on operational readiness, Dr Ng said: "We've been very careful there. In other words, even though it's a national task, a national effort, we want to make sure that the SAF keeps its eyes on its primary area of responsibility."
"Chief of Defence Force (Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong) has been very clear about this - that we will not compromise security even though this is important," he added.
This is why the Combat Service Support Command has been mobilised to help with the packing of masks to be distributed to households, as other operational units remain on duty, he said.
On Thursday, the Government announced that all 1.3 million households will be given four masks each, which will be progressively distributed from Saturday, as part of the measures to tackle the spread of the Wuhan virus in Singapore.
The SAF will deliver the masks to 89 community centres and clubs for distribution by the People's Association.
As of Thursday, there have been 13 confirmed cases of Wuhan coronavirus infection in Singapore. All of the infected were Chinese nationals from Wuhan, and there was no evidence of community spread of the Wuhan virus here.
Dr Ng said that the SAF was also mindful that the Wuhan virus outbreak in Singapore might be in its early stages.
"While we wish it to be contained, if it doesn't go the way we want and it spreads, then we have to be ready. The SAF has these plans in place and we want to make sure that we're operationally ready given various scenarios that can play out," he said.
Around 1,500 SAF servicemen - wearing hair nets, masks and gloves for hygiene reasons - are involved in the packing. Their hands have to be sanitised before they are allowed to help.
The round-the-clock packing started on 10pm on Thursday. All 5.2 million masks are expected to be packed by Saturday night. Delivery of the masks will begin at 5pm on Friday.
The servicemen, coming from various units under the Combat Service Support Command such as the Supply and Transport Headquarters, are doing eight-hour shifts, with 450 people involved in each shift. Each shift is expected to pack about 200,000 packs of masks, with four masks in each pack.
Dr Ng was accompanied by Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, Lt-Gen Ong and the Chief of Army, Major-General Goh Si Hou.
Other than packing masks, SAF servicemen also man the thermal imagery machines at the airport to pick out passengers with fever, although Dr Ng stressed that they are not in direct contact or near passengers as they are not trained to do so.
"If they detect people with fever or with those obvious flu-like symptoms, they will alert airport staff as well as medical staff to deal with it."
In 2013, the SAF also packed and helped to distribute N95 masks to Singaporeans in response to a haze situation.