SINGAPORE: The Singapore Government will no longer discourage people from wearing face masks and will be distributing reusable masks to all households, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Apr 3).
This comes amid a changing COVID-19 situation, where there is now evidence that an asymptomatic person can still pass on the virus to others.
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Mr Lee noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also reviewing their guidance on the use of face masks.
"Therefore we will no longer discourage people from wearing masks," the Prime Minister said in his address to the nation.
"Wearing a mask may help to protect others, in case you have the virus but don’t know it. This is so that you keep your droplets to yourself.
"It can also protect yourself a little better, especially if you are elderly, or vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions," said Mr Lee.
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Previously, the Government's advice to the public was to only wear a mask if they are not feeling well. This was based on scientific advice and guidelines from the WHO.
The previous advice was also based on a situation where Singapore did not have community spread, Mr Lee noted.
"Now, the the situation is changing," said Mr Lee. "We now think there are some cases out there in the community going undetected, though probably still not that many."
However, Mr Lee stressed that the Government still wants to conserve surgical masks for healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals.
He added that for everyone else, alternatives like reusable masks will give some added protection.
REUSABLE MASKS TO BE DISTRIBUTED TO HOUSEHOLDS FROM SUNDAY
"So from this Sunday, the Government will distribute reusable masks to all households. Meanwhile, many community groups have been making and distributing reusable masks for the elderly and vulnerable. I applaud these efforts. They show our community spirit and mutual care," said Mr Lee.
He warned that even if residents wear masks, they still need to wash their hands and keep a safe distance from others.
The reusable masks will be given out from Apr 5 until Apr 12, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing at a multi-ministry press conference after Mr Lee's address.
He added that each Singapore resident will receive a mask, and they are advised to wear it when they leave their homes to go to a "crowded environment".
When they get home, residents can wash the masks, dry them and use them again if needed.
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Residents will be able to collect their masks at their respective Community Centres and Resident's Committee Centres between 3pm and 9pm on weekdays, and between 10am and 9pm on weekends and public holidays.
They can also refer to the website www.maskgowhere.sg for more details.
WEARING MASKS NOT AN EXCUSE TO ENGAGE IN SOCIAL INTERACTIONS
Also speaking at the press conference, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health, explained why the Government will continue to prioritise surgical masks for healthcare workers.
"We will continue to prioritise the use of surgical masks for healthcare workers who need the mask to protect themselves as they dedicate their time and energy to looking after those of us who are ill and those of us who are infected with COVID-19," said Assoc Prof Mak.
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He added that for members of the public, the Government will prioritise seniors as they are more susceptible to infection and, if infected, may have poorer outcomes because of the different medical conditions they may have.
Assoc Prof Mak also acknowledged that there may be a spread of infection from those who have minimal or mild symptoms in the community.
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He encouraged those who are leaving their homes to wear masks, especially if they need to see a doctor or if they are not able to avoid contact with others.
"Please do not go out wearing masks as an excuse to continue to engage in social interactions," he said.