SINGAPORE: Several retail outlets ran out of both N95 masks and surgical masks on Friday (Jan 24), a day after Singapore confirmed its first case of the Wuhan virus on its shores.
A check by CNA showed that masks were out of stock at Guardian and Watsons stores in places like Paya Lebar Quarter, Clementi Mall and Tiong Bahru Plaza.
Where masks were still available, at Chinatown Point for instance, long queues formed at stores. Customers were also seen snapping up hand sanitisers and thermometers.
While some shops did not know when their next delivery would arrive, having sold out a fresh batch on Friday morning, others said that more deliveries were on the way.
MORE THAN ENOUGH N95 MASKS
The Ministry of Health (MOH) however said in a press conference earlier in the week that there is “more than a sufficient” number of N95 masks if there is a surge in demand.
Typically there is an excess of six months of usage of “various items” including surgical masks during "peace time”, MOH said.
READ: Singaporeans should be ‘calm but watchful’ after first Wuhan virus case, says PM Lee in Chinese New Year message
“The public need not panic. First of all, we don’t need N95 masks for most of the purposes we use the mask for. We also have enough stock within Singapore so there should not be a situation where we anticipate the masks running out at any time,” MOH said.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Friday also assured the public that Singapore had "plenty" of surgical masks.
"We have been pushing stocks to the retailers, and they are progressively restocking their shelves," said the minister in a Facebook post.
"We are monitoring the situation closely, including the inventories of the retailers, and will ensure there is ample supply to meet demand," said Mr Wong, adding that there was no need to stock up or panic buy.
MOH urged the public to use a surgical mask if they are coughing and sneezing.
“If it is for the purpose of preventing the spread of droplets and aerosols if you are sneezing and coughing, in fact the normal face mask, the surgical mask is sufficient for that purpose," said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the designate director of medical services at the Health Ministry.
"This is why in our advisories, we have not advocated the use of N95 masks."
In fact, wearing an N95 mask over “sustained periods of time” is not comfortable and doing so would not be recommended for the elderly who have certain medical conditions, MOH said.
MOH group director of operations Koh Peng Keng said that those who work in healthcare settings are required to go through training on how to wear it properly and how to fit such that there are no gaps.
“We don’t want people to have a false sense of security just because they put on an N95 mask,” he said.
MOH tracks and monitors the sales of masks, but at this point, the ministry is confident that sufficient masks remain available to Singaporeans, it said.
Even before the first case of the Wuhan virus landed here, there were more sales of masks within the past two weeks, MOH said.
Major retailers have activated their supply chains, but they can go to MOH should they need a supplement of masks, MOH added.
In a Facebook post on Friday evening, NTUC Fairprice assured customers that surgical masks would still be available in their stores despite the surge in demand.
"We are working with our suppliers and the Ministry Of Health (MOH) over the Chinese New Year to bring in more stocks of face masks (surgical masks and N95 masks)," it said.
"Another shipment of masks will arrive at all FairPrice supermarkets and Unity pharmacies this weekend. More are expected to arrive next week."
NTUC Fairprice also said that purchase of masks have been limited to 20 pieces, or one box of face masks per person, to ensure that more households are able to obtain them.
"We will keep the prices of face masks steady and make them affordable in our commitment to curb profiteering," said NTUC Fairprice.
For full coverage and latest developments on the Wuhan virus outbreak: https://cna.asia/wuhan-virus
Additional reporting by Lydia Lam, Lianne Chia, Ang Hwee Min.