SINGAPORE: Singapore will have enough masks for its residents provided they are managed "appropriately", said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Thursday (Jan 30), amid concerns over the availability of masks as protection against the deadly Wuhan virus.
There have been long queues and empty shelves at several retail outlets islandwide since at least Jan 24, when the second and third cases were confirmed, with shoppers snapping up masks, thermometers and hand sanitisers.
"I understand many Singaporeans are concerned whether we have sufficient masks in our stockpile," said Mr Chan.
"Whether we have sufficient masks or not will depend on three factors: How much we have in our physical stockpile, our usage rate, and our resupply quantum and frequency.
"We will have enough if we manage these three factors appropriately," he added.
Should personal mask usage not be managed, the entire healthcare system could be "jeopardised", said Mr Chan. This would "not allow" the government to "take care of those who need it the most”, he added.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) has released 5 million masks to retailers in the past nine days, but the usage has been much higher than expected.
To ensure mask availability, it plans to source for new suppliers and ramp up purchases for traditional sellers.
"So far, the usage rate in the last one week has been much higher than what would be reasonably expected," said Mr Chan.
"But we understand when people are fearful there is a tendency for them to panic buy or to hoard, but this is not useful to the entire system."
He also cautioned that many producers are prioritising supply to China because it is the epicentre of the virus outbreak. Supply is also further constrained because certain places, such as Taiwan, have banned the export of surgical masks, he added.
Demand is also coming from other parts of the world who also have healthcare needs, such as the Philippines and bushfire-stricken Australia.
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"SELFISH" HOARDING DOESN'T HELP
Going forward, Singapore will prioritise the resupply of masks to medical institutions.
"While we manage our stockpile we must also manage our usage rate to prioritise those who need it the most: The healthcare workers, the vulnerable ones," said the minister.
People should "only use it when we are going to seek medical help when we are not well", he added.
"Prepare for the long haul but never, never succumb to the short-term fears and panic buying and hoarding behaviours, because this will destroy the entire system that we have," Mr Chan stressed.
While the "vast majority of Singaporeans are staying calm", he noted that "some in the local community that have taken to hoarding the supplies" of masks.
"Such behaviour - they are not appropriate, they are selfish and they are not helpful to our collective defence," said Mr Chan.
"We must all act in unison, act together, and not jeopardise the entire system by doing things that we think might benefit ourselves, protect ourselves, but to detriment of everyone else in the society."
To ensure that all Singaporeans have access to masks "when they require them", the Ministry of Defence will be distributing four masks to each household.
PROFITEERING IS "WRONG"
Retailers profiteering from the situation will be taken to task, said Mr Chan, adding that warning letters will be sent to errant sellers.
He called out retailer Deen Express, which is suspected of profiteering by selling masks at high prices, saying that they will be required to explain the basis of the prices set, the cost price of their mask and their reasons for doing so.
It is "wrong for the resellers to try to take advantage of this situation to profiteer", he said. "We will not allow this to happen."
"We do not stand for such (profiteering) behaviour in Singapore, and we also urge Singaporeans not to support or give in to such profiteers because we do have our means to provide the necessary supplies," said Mr Chan.
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He applauded efforts by e-commerce platforms such as Qoo10 and Carousell to weed out such profiteering, and said that they will be asked to cooperate with the ministry and provide information on errant sellers.