Inside the Government’s decision to change its mind on masking

How the masking debate in Singapore unfolded

MOH said in a statement:
“Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose.”

Jan 2, 2020

The advisory later hardened to actively discourage those who are well to mask up. Keeping hands clean was more important, it said.

4 concerned doctors write a widely-shared advisory calling on people to wear a mask.

Feb 10, 2020

“If one faces a person and both parties are masked, it is considerably safer, constituting a two-barrier protection,” they said.

There remains no scientific consensus on mask-wearing or whether asymptomatic transmission was possible until late in the month.

March 2020

Only some Singaporeans could be seen wearing masks while out.

In a surprise reversal, PM Lee said the Government would no longer discourage people who are well from wearing masks.

This came after after there was evidence that an infected person could transmit the virus despite not showing symptoms.

April 3, 2020

It became mandatory for people to wear a mask when leaving home except if they were doing strenuous exercise and for children below the age of two. Those who refused were fined $300 on their first offence.

April 14, 2020

Why did the Govt initially discourage mask wearing?

The Government’s early advice was based on two considerations:

1. WHO said masks were not helpful and might, in fact, give people a false sense of security.

2. People were scrambling for surgical masks and Singapore did not have enough supply of these for everyone.

Should the Govt have asked Singaporeans to wear face masks from the start?

Yes, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

“In retrospect, I think we would have said right from the beginning, please don’t scramble for the surgical masks, save those for the healthcare workers, but the rest of you, let’s make our own masks,” he said.

“... it will give people a sense of reassurance that they are doing something to help protect themselves and to protect others, which is very important in a crisis like this.”

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the mask turnaround was an important reminder to the multi-ministry task force to be flexible.

“You must be prepared to move quite quickly if you believe that your hypotheses or assumptions are wrong, no longer valid, and shift”, he said.

“You can’t be squeamish about it.”

Read the full story about the mask U-turn in the book "In This Together - Singapore's Covid-19 story"

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