SINGAPORE: Face shields can no longer replace the use of face masks, except in certain settings and for select groups such as children aged 12 and below, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (Jun 1).
The new guidelines take effect from Tuesday, the day after Singapore exits its COVID-19 "circuit breaker" period.
Apart from children aged 12 and below, people with health conditions that may result in breathing or other medical difficulties when a mask is worn for a prolonged period of time can also continue to use face shields instead of masks.
Face shields will also be allowed for people who are speaking to a group in a classroom or lecture-style setting, "where they largely remain at the spot from which they are speaking, and are able to maintain a safe distance away from any other persons", said MOH.
These are situations in which the wearing of masks may not be practical, the ministry said. Even so, face shields must be worn “properly” so that it covers the entire face, from the forehead to below the chin, wrapping around the sides of the face.
Television presenters will continue to be exempt from having to wear face masks or shields.
In April, MOH had said on its website that any mask - including plastic face shields - can be worn as this offers "adequate basic protection" for people who need to leave their homes during the circuit breaker period. It has since updated the information.
For people who wear face shields instead of masks without a valid reason, they would "face the same penalty as if you are not wearing a mask", said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force on Monday.
Anyone caught not wearing a mask when they leave their residence faces a fine of S$300 for the first offence. Repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court for egregious cases.
WHY MASKS OVER FACE SHIELDS
During the circuit breaker, face shields were allowed to be worn, but the guidelines were updated as Singapore prepares to reopen its economy.
“With effect from Jun 2, we expect greater community interaction and contact among people, including on the public transport. Therefore the use of masks will become the default," said Mr Gan.
Explaining the changes to its guidelines, MOH said that COVID-19 is spread predominantly through droplets, and the design of face shields typically leaves a gap between the face shield and the face.
“Masks that are worn closely and completely over the nose and mouth do not have such gaps,” the ministry said.
In certain settings, face shields may be worn on top of a mask to provide additional protection, the ministry added.
“For example, wearing a shield can help to protect one’s eyes from droplets that may contain virus particles, and can also prevent the mask from getting wet. It may also help to stop people from adjusting their masks or touching their faces,” said MOH.
The ministry's director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak said at the press conference that the decision was made on the basis of being “more cautious”.
"Face shields may continue to augment the use of masks, but mask-wearing will be the default," he stressed.
Mr Gan added: “We will continue to exercise flexibility in the enforcement of groups that may have difficulties wearing face masks.”
He also said that the role of individuals will become “even more critical” when the circuit breaker comes to an end, as there will be fewer restrictions.
“We appeal to everyone to continue to stay at home and avoid going out, except for essential services as well as to buy essential items, or to work, where telecommuting is not possible,” he said.
Watch the full press conference: