Mask collection starts on Feb 1


Senior Health Correspondent

The Straits Times


All 1.3 million households in Singapore will be given four surgical masks, the Government announced on Thursday even as it reiterated that only people who are unwell should be wearing them.

About 5.2 million masks will be given out 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 take along their identity card.

Those living in HDB flats can collect them from RCs from Feb 1 to Feb 5.

Thereafter, those living in private housing estates and those who have not yet collected their masks can get them from CCs.

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. Over the past nine days, the Government has already released five million masks to retailers.

The Government stressed that there are enough masks available for those who need them. The authorities are sourcing for new mask suppliers amid a global shortage and ramping up new supplies from traditional suppliers.

Priority will be given to medical institutions when it comes to resupply of masks.

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.

There are currently 10 confirmed cases in Singapore, all tourists from Hubei province.

Health experts here have said that there is no community spread of the Wuhan 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 that everyone will be sick.

If a number of people are unwell in the same family and there's 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 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.

The masks were listed for sale at $10,000 from Monday to Wednesday, before the advertisement 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 Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan expressed the Singapore Government's appreciation to the Chinese government, Hubei provincial government, Wuhan city government and the Chinese embassy in Singapore for facilitating the safe return of the Singaporeans.

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 infected cases have climbed.

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 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."


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