Sunday, 2 February 2020

Wuhan virus: Each Singapore household to get 4 free masks for contingencies; collection starts on 1 Feb till 9 Feb 2020

1,500 SAF personnel packing 5.2 million masks for all 1.3 million households in 24-hour operation
Sufficient supply of masks for all who need them, but people urged to use them responsibly
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent and Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2020

Amid the ongoing clamour for surgical masks, the authorities have said that Singapore has enough for those who need them and announced that all 1.3 million households in Singapore will be given four masks each.

But they also warned against the recent wave of panic buying that has seen these masks being snapped up and hoarded while governments globally try to contain the Wuhan virus.

"We will have sufficient supply of masks in Singapore, provided we all use them responsibly," National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday. He added: "You only wear a mask if you are not well and you have to go out to see a doctor. Those who are well do not need to wear a mask."

The move came on the same day that three new patients were announced, bringing the number of confirmed cases here to 13. All three are women and Chinese nationals from Wuhan.

The first is a 31-year-old who was a travelling companion of an earlier patient. The other two are a 73-year-old and a 37-year-old who arrived with their families on Jan 21 and Jan 22, respectively. The authorities have initiated contact tracing for all three cases.

It was also announced that about five million masks will be given out and will be made available progressively from 2pm tomorrow, at 89 community centres and 654 residents' committee centres. They should all be distributed by Feb 9.

The masks are free and can be collected only once for each household. Those collecting should have their identity card with them. The masks will be delivered to those who are vulnerable and cannot collect them.

Commenting on the move, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook: "I understand your concerns and frustrations about not being able to get masks at retail stores, given the recent rush all over Singapore to buy them. Five million masks have been released to retailers in the past nine days, but demand has been higher than anticipated."

While the authorities stressed that there are enough masks here for those who need them, they are sourcing for new suppliers, amid a global shortage, and ramping up supplies from traditional suppliers.

Priority for masks will be for essential services, especially medical personnel.

The Singapore Armed Forces, which has been working round the clock to pack the masks, will work with the People's Association to distribute them.

Health experts have said that there is no community spread of the virus here, so there is no need for healthy people to wear masks.

The masks are being distributed as a contingency measure so that someone who falls sick can wear them to go out and see a doctor, therefore four masks per family should suffice, they said.

The authorities said that if several people fall sick within the same family, they can call for assistance and dedicated ambulances will be activated to help them.

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 their masks and their reasons for the high pricing.

If they are found to be profiteering, action can be taken against them under the Price Control Act, including fines and jail terms.

On Wednesday, online mall Qoo10 removed a listing that advertised 30 "anti-coronavirus" masks for sale at $10,000.

Singapore is also keeping a watch over its citizens in the epicentre of the outbreak. Yesterday, 92 Singaporeans from Wuhan returned home on a Scoot flight that had ferried Chinese nationals there.

Meanwhile, some Singaporeans who have shown signs of the virus will remain in Wuhan until it is safe for them to travel, said Mr Wong.

Where to collect masks? Check online by entering postal code
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay and Toh Wen Li, The Sunday Times, 2 Feb 2020

The distribution of more than five million masks to 1.37 million households in Singapore began yesterday at 2pm.

To find out where and when to collect their free masks, members of the public can go to and enter their postal code.

Each household is entitled to a pack of four masks, and residents must show their identity cards when they collect them.

The masks are for one-time use and meant for people who are ill.

On Thursday, the Government announced plans to distribute free masks amid the spread of the Wuhan virus and reports of shops running out of stock.

Information has also been put up on community notice boards, digital display panels and constituency social media platforms.

Collection times are staggered at 89 community centres and 654 residents' committee (RC) centres. The distribution began at 200 RC centres yesterday.

Collection hours will be from 10am to 9pm till Feb 9.

People who miss their collection times should head to their community clubs, where uncollected masks will be kept.

People's Association volunteers will deliver the masks to residents with mobility issues.

The public can call 1800-333-9999 if they have questions about the mask collection.

The hotline will operate from 9am to 9pm till Feb 9.

For information on how to collect the masks and use them, go to

Masks should be used only by those who are unwell
Public urged to desist from panic buying and hoarding; enough supply if used responsibly
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 31 Jan 2020

Masks are needed only by those who are unwell and need to see a doctor, government leaders said yesterday, urging Singaporeans to refrain from hoarding them.

There is sufficient supply of these masks for Singaporeans' needs, but only if these are used responsibly.

Those who are well do not need to don a mask to try to avoid catching a virus. They would be better protected by washing their hands with soap and water regularly.

Government leaders pointed to this in the wake of signs of panic buying of surgical masks, with more than five million masks released to retailers "snapped up in hours" each time a batch of these were put up for sale over the past nine days, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at a news conference.

Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the spread of the Wuhan virus here, said this had happened despite retailers limiting sales to one box per customer.

"The current rate of consumption of masks in Singapore is not sustainable... especially with the global shortage and the likely export bans," he said.

He added that places like Taiwan have already banned exports of masks, and Singapore must be prepared that more may follow suit.

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who was also at the news conference, said that many producers around the world are prioritising China as it is the epicentre of the current situation.

There are also other healthcare needs around the world, such as the bush fires in Australia, he said.

He added: "We cannot assume our supply lines are unconstrained or unaffected by the competition from others who are taking action to secure their own supply lines."

Noting that the vast majority of Singaporeans are remaining calm, Mr Chan said there are nonetheless some here who have taken to hoarding supplies.

Calling such behaviour "selfish" and "not appropriate", he said: "Prepare for the long haul but never, never succumb to short-term fears and panic buying and hoarding behaviours because this will destroy the entire system we have."

The Government is currently sourcing for new mask suppliers and ramping up supplies from traditional sources.

FairPrice has said that it will not tap the national stockpile of masks as it has done in the past, and will instead continue to secure new supplies for national deployment.

Mr Wong noted that the four masks to be given to each household should be sufficient, as more may be made available for families with members who fall ill.

"This is not a set of masks for us to take, open immediately, use it to go to the hawker centre. These masks are to be kept in the household for members of our families who might get ill and need to access medical help," said Mr Chan.

He added: "We must all act in unison and not jeopardise the entire system by doing things that we think might benefit and protect ourselves, to the detriment of everyone else in society."

Supply of masks in Singapore sufficient, no need to rush to buy them: Lam Pin Min
By Adeline Leong, The Straits Times, 29 Jan 2020

There are enough masks available if people use them sensibly and responsibly, Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min has said.

"There is no need to rush to buy masks. We are working with retailers like NTUC FairPrice and Unity Pharmacy to push out the stocks," he said in a Facebook post yesterday after visiting a warehouse with FairPrice Group chief executive Seah Kian Peng to check on the stockpile.

Dr Lam said some retailers have started to ration the sale of masks "to ensure there is adequate supply for Singaporeans and to prevent unnecessary hoarding".

The Government is working with retailers to manage pricing, he added, cautioning them against profiteering.

Checks by The Straits Times on 10 shops, including branches of popular chains and a supermarket, found that masks were mostly out of stock.

A Watsons spokesman said it is working closely with suppliers to replenish stocks.

Dr Lam said masks are generally not needed in normal daily activities as there is currently no local transmission of the Wuhan virus, but those with a cough or runny nose should use one to prevent viruses from spreading.

Mask distribution to begin on Saturday, 1 February at 200 RC centres
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay and Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 1 Feb 2020

The distribution of more than five million masks to local households will begin today at about 200 residents' committee (RC) centres, with residents in Beach Road among the first to receive them.

Collection times will be staggered over the next week at the designated 89 community centres and 654 RC centres that will be mobilised across the island, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told reporters yesterday.

Information on when and where to collect the masks has been put up on community notice boards, digital display panels and constituency social media platforms.

You can check details of the mask collection using this site. It will be regularly updated.

Members of the public can also call 1800-333-9999 if they have questions about the mask collection. The hotline will be manned between 2pm and 10pm today, and 9am to 9pm from tomorrow to Feb 9.

Mr Chan, who is the People's Association (PA) deputy chairman, said that collection times will be staggered to prevent long queues from forming.

"We have calculated that even at peak hour, we should be able to complete the transactions in a few minutes, so there is really no need to rush," he said.

The Government on Thursday announced that all 1.3 million households in Singapore will be given a pack of four masks each amid the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus and reports of shops running out of stock. The masks are for one-time use and are meant for people who are ill to avoid infecting others.

They will be made available progressively from today, and should be fully distributed by Feb 9. Collection hours today will be from 2pm to 10pm, and from 10am to 9pm on subsequent days.

The free masks can be collected only once per household, and those collecting them must show their identity card. PA volunteers will deliver the masks to residents with mobility issues, said Mr Chan.

PA volunteer Ronnie Ma, who will be helping to distribute masks at the Kampong Glam Beach Road RC centre, said that it expects to serve about 2,500 to 2,800 households today.

"We are focusing purely on Beach Road (today) because it has our highest population of residents living in rental blocks," said Mr Ma, 50.

Meanwhile, around 1,500 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) servicemen are working round the clock to ensure that the 5.2 million masks are packed in time.

The packing started at 10pm on Thursday. All masks are expected to be packed by tonight.

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 prepare about 200,000 packs of masks.

Speaking with reporters yesterday after observing the packing at the 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.

The SAF is also helping with contact tracing as well as manning thermal imagery machines at the airport to pick out travellers with fever, he said.

Asked if he foresaw any impact on operational readiness, Dr Ng said the SAF would be mindful of its primary responsibility even as it played its part in this national effort.

Smooth start to mask distribution at 200 RC centres around Singapore
Hardly any queues at sites; many residents aware of need to wear a mask only when ill
By Olivia Ho , Toh Wen Li, and Lester Wong, The Sunday Times, 2 Feb 2020

The first day of mask distribution at about 200 residents' committee (RC) centres around Singapore went smoothly, despite initial concerns of a rush at collection points.

At several RCs The Sunday Times visited, there were next to no queues and volunteers handing out masks often outnumbered the residents collecting them.

The Government on Thursday announced that all 1.3 million households in Singapore would be given a pack of four masks each, amid reports of shops running out of stock with the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

The masks are being made available progressively. Distribution began yesterday and will end on Feb 9.

Mr Darryl David, adviser for Ang Mo Kio GRC Grassroots Organisations, who was at the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Zone 1 RC, said an open, clear area had been chosen for the distribution in anticipation of long queues.

"It's gone very efficiently and very smoothly," he said. "This shows that residents are very sensible and very reasonable. They understand that you don't need a mask if you are well. These masks are a precaution for those who are not well."

Ms Denise Phua, Mayor of Central Singapore District, said the relative calm was due to grassroots efforts to communicate with residents, whether by posting the mask distribution schedules on community noticeboards and in lifts or informing participants at events and functions over the last few days.

People's Association staff at Woodlands Zone 1 RC said that by 5.30pm, only about 10 per cent of the households in the area had turned up to collect their masks, perhaps because people were still making Chinese New Year visits.

Most residents interviewed said they recognised that people need not wear a mask unless they are ill.

"I think life should go on as normal," said retired accountant Katherine Soh, 68. "Everyone is so worked up. The Government is doing well but everybody should take on a bit of responsibility too."

Marketing executive Jonas Bai, 33, who collected his masks from Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Zone 1 RC, said: "They are really well organised. But it's a bit unfair that those living in other blocks can't get their masks today."

For others, the masks did not quite allay their fears.

"We're very scared and we try not to go out because it spreads so fast," said Beach Road resident and caregiver Nur Haslinda, 58. "But we are very confident in the Government's response."

Retired factory supervisor Andrew Yap, 71, said he queued at seven outlets this week to buy masks but did not manage to get any. "Why is the Government giving out masks so late?" he wanted to know. "And why don't they give more?"

Among the volunteers spending their weekend distributing masks was Beijing native Cong Wei, 42, who works in the healthcare industry and has lived in Singapore for three years.

She was helping out at Paya Lebar Zone 4 RC yesterday.

"I think it's very important to help people understand how to use these masks, and how to protect themselves," she said. "China is my home country, but since I'm living in Singapore, I think it's more important to help protect Singaporeans here."

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing wrote in a Facebook post yesterday: "Good start to the surgical masks collection exercise this afternoon across the island. The queues were generally short and residents were calm, with no rush to collect the masks.

"It was an opportunity for residents to raise questions or clarify doubts with our volunteers, giving us a rich store of feedback. Residents I spoke to were also keenly aware that the masks are not meant for immediate use, and only if and when they are unwell."

300,000 masks for those taking private-hire cars and cabs
Drivers will pass them out to ill passengers; operators to set up temperature stations
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2020

A total of 300,000 surgical masks will be given to taxi and private-hire car drivers, and temperature-taking stations will be set up to better protect them from the coronavirus, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) yesterday.

Packs of four masks, which come from the Government, will be distributed from today through the drivers' companies and operators.

LTA said in a statement: "These masks are intended for drivers to offer to passengers who are unwell but do not have a mask and need a ride to seek medical attention."

The authority also announced that from today, taxi operators will be setting up eight temperature screening stations across all their premises.

Drivers can go to these stations to have their temperature taken and receive a sticker for the day, to indicate their temperature has been checked.

LTA added that private-hire car companies such as Grab and Gojek will require their drivers to take their own temperature and to submit their readings via their apps.

More temperature-taking stations will be progressively added islandwide, said LTA, which will work with the National Taxi Association (NTA) and the National Private Hire Vehicle Association (NPHVA) to set these up.

Speaking to reporters following a dialogue with about 60 taxi and private-hire drivers yesterday, Senior Minister of State for Transport Janil Puthucheary said these measures are meant to protect drivers and to assure members of the public that taxis and private-hire cars are safe to ride.

"We need to find a way to restore confidence. Passengers need to find a way to be confident in the vehicle and the drivers picking them up," he said.

In the past week, there have been three cases of taxi drivers and private-hire drivers who were infected by the coronavirus. All had no recent travel history to China.

During the dialogue, Dr Janil addressed a misconception that the coronavirus is airborne, which he said some drivers have thought to be true, and which could stoke unnecessary fears.

The virus is spread by droplets, stressed Dr Janil. This means that rather than being passed via the air in a small confined space such as a car or a taxi, fluid from the mouth and nose carries the virus. Coronaviruses are spread via droplets from a cough or sneeze.

"All the evidence currently points to this virus being droplet-spread. It is not airborne, and that is what is determining the way in which we address this issue," he said.

In an advisory on Sunday sent on its WhatsApp channel, the Government said it is safe to take taxis or private-hire cars.

But cabbies and private-hire drivers whom The Straits Times had spoken to earlier reported a drop in their earnings, with less demand for their services.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, adviser to both the NTA and NPHVA, was also at the dialogue and told reporters yesterday that cabbies and private-hire drivers have seen their earnings fall by about 30 per cent in the past week or so. He said the drop in demand has taken a toll on drivers as they have to work longer hours to make up for the dip in earnings.

Mr Ang and Dr Janil said more measures are being put together to help these drivers deal with the drop in demand.

Only 54% of households have collected masks, distribution extended till Feb 29
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2020

Households here who have not collected their surgical masks distributed by the Government still have time to get them before the end of the month.

The People's Association (PA) announced on Sunday (Feb 9) that the deadline would be extended till Feb 29. The original distribution period was from Feb 1 to Feb 9.

The Government decided to give each household four free masks in light of the spread of the coronavirus first reported in Wuhan, as well as reports of shops running out of stock.

As of Saturday, 54 per cent of 1.37 million households have collected the masks from the 89 community centres or clubs and 654 residents' committee centres, said PA.

Those who have not collected their masks can do so at the community centres or clubs in their constituencies during opening hours.

PA added that any remaining masks after the new deadline will be returned to the national stockpile they were drawn from.

"This will ensure that our health institutions and those in need can have access to the necessary supplies," said the association.

About 5.2 million masks have been allocated for this distribution.

The masks can be collected only once for each household, and persons collecting them have to bring along their identity card.

The masks will be delivered to those who are vulnerable and cannot collect them.

The masks are for one-time use and are meant for people who are ill to avoid infecting others.

Residents can go to and enter their postal code to find where they can collect their masks, or call their community centre or club, or call 1800-333-9999.

As of Saturday, there are 40 confirmed cases of the coronavirus here.

Many have stepped up to help distribute masks

We thank Mr Leroy Cheong Kai Thong for his suggestions (Let other groups help with distributing masks, Feb 5).

With the help of many grassroots leaders, volunteers and staff from various agencies, we have been able to quickly set up mask collection centres at residents' committee centres and community clubs (CCs) near the homes of residents.

The collection process, which started on Feb 1, has been proceeding smoothly.

Many volunteers, community groups and non-governmental organisations have already stepped forward to help so residents can get their masks quickly.

These include volunteers from Team Nila, Silver Generation ambassadors and Singapore Scouts and family service centres.

Management committees of condominiums are also working with us to set up collection points within their condo premises.

Residents and community groups who would like to be a part of this community effort are welcome to contact their nearest CC.

We are heartened by the calm response of residents towards this mask distribution exercise and are thankful for the spontaneous acts of kindness shown by many residents, including providing food and drinks for our volunteers.

Philip Tan
Director (Emergency Preparedness)
People's Association
ST Forum, 7 Feb 2020

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