Coronavirus pandemic

Experts see rationale for mask exemption

The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all now. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so. Those who fail to wear masks will be fined $300 for the first offence and
People wearing masks while queueing to buy fresh produce at the Toa Payoh West Market and Food Centre yesterday morning. The enforcement of social distancing measures has been intensified to reduce the risk of virus transmission.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all now. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so. Those who fail to wear masks will be fined $300 for the first offence and
The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all now. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so. Those who fail to wear masks will be fined $300 for the first offence and $1,000 for the second offence.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all now. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so. Those who fail to wear masks will be fined $300 for the first offence and
The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all now. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so. Those who fail to wear masks will be fined $300 for the first offence and $1,000 for the second offence.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
The wearing of masks outside of the home is a must for all now. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so. Those who fail to wear masks will be fined $300 for the first offence and
People exercising with their masks on along Clementi Park Connector yesterday. Those engaging in "strenuous exercise" - such as jogging or running - are exempted from donning a mask but are required to put one on before and after a workout session to minimise the risk of transmission.ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

A debate has erupted over one of the latest circuit breaker measures that exempts those engaging in strenuous exercise from having to wear a mask while outdoors.

Some people have questioned the move, arguing that those who exercise vigorously typically breathe hard and could be exhaling more air droplets. Studies suggest that contact with infected air droplets is one way in which the coronavirus is transmitted.

But several experts interviewed yesterday said they saw the rationale for the move as exerting oneself while wearing a mask might not be safe. Allowing people to exercise and stay healthy would boost their immune systems too, they said.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert who practises at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said that exercising with a mask could jeopardise one's health.

He said: "When you put on a mask, there is resistance in breathing, making the exercise more strenuous and it can trigger a heart attack."

Dr Piotr Chlebicki, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Alvernia Hospital, also told The Straits Times that there is a low chance of transmission of the coronavirus because people tend to jog and run outdoors, which is well ventilated.

Student Eric K, 18, who runs six times a week at Sungei Jurong, tried exercising while donning a reusable cotton mask once, but found it "extremely suffocating". The student, who did not want to reveal his full name, had to remove it to continue his workout.

Everyone in Singapore is required to wear a mask when they are outside their homes now.

But those engaging in "strenuous exercise" are exempted. Children between two and six years old are encouraged to wear masks when outside but are not required to do so.

Late last night, Sport Singapore clarified that one does not need to wear a mask when doing the following activities: running, jogging, cycling, static exercises and drills for warm-ups, strength and flexibility; and walking briskly or on hilly terrain.

However, walking or strolling leisurely and any other activities will require a mask. One is also required to don a mask before and after a workout session to minimise the risk of transmission.

 
 
 
 

National marathoner Mok Ying Ren, who is also a doctor, said: "It makes sense because we breathe a lot harder, and if you harbour the virus, it's more likely for you to spread it if you are not wearing your mask."

Some, however, think that no exceptions to the mask-up when outdoors rule should be made, given the tightening of the circuit breaker measures.

One who took this view was Madam Lim, a housewife who did not want to give her full name. She said: "Those running without masks pass by lots of people. Now that the Government is giving out masks, everyone should wear them for the sake of all as the number of cases every day is increasing."

Others, however, think that there is no need to stop runners from exercising, and trying to stay fit. Dr Chlebicki, for one, sees no issue with people exercising as there is a low chance of them getting the virus if they run alone.

But he added: "It is a generous exception, but I hope people have some personal responsibility and common sense not to overuse the exception."

Experts suggested finding less crowded places to work out and going out early in the morning or late at night to avoid people. Dr Leong advised runners to keep a distance of 10m from people who are breathing heavily after exercising.

National marathoner Soh Rui Yong, who trains at East Coast Park and Bedok Reservoir several times a week, makes sure not to touch surfaces unnecessarily and maintains a certain distance between him and those around him.

But he feels that exercising during this period is important.

He said: "If you stop (exercising), your immunity goes down and you'll be more susceptible to all kinds of illnesses, not just Covid-19.

"There has to be a balance... and this makes sense because they're trying to strike a balance between allowing people to continue a healthy lifestyle while taking safety precautions."

• Additional reporting by Neo Yee Pung and Arvinash Ravindran

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2020, with the headline 'Experts see rationale for mask exemption'. Subscribe