SINGAPORE: Singapore's health authorities are recommending that members of the public wear masks with better filtration capability as local cases of COVID-19 increase, likely due to new variants of the coronavirus.
"We have to do everything we can - all of us - to do our part to slow down the spread of the virus and that means several things," said co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong at a press conference on Tuesday (May 18).
One of the enhanced recommendations is to wear masks that have "higher filtration capability", said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.
"In particular, if you are going to an enclosed space with people in close proximity, make sure you wear a mask with high filtration capability," he said.
"It's not just wearing a cloth mask, but wear one with high filtration capability - a surgical mask or one of those with the filter inserts.
"That is important because of the latest evidence about the nature of the various strains, how transmissible they are and the fact that the spread can happen through aerosolised particles."
WHAT MASKS TO USE?
Such masks are those with at least a 95 per cent bacterial filtration efficiency – for both single-use or reusable masks, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
MOH said that mask use continues to be "one of the key public health strategies in preventing disease by reducing the expulsion and transmission of droplets".
"The recent clusters suggest a higher level of transmission, likely attributed to new virus variants," it said.
"A mask with better protection, such as those with better filtration efficiency, will help to mitigate the increased risks of transmission and infection."
Suitable face coverings include reusable masks that are made of at least two layers of fabric, and surgical masks, said the ministry.
"Single-use masks would typically report their filtration efficiency as part of their product specifications," said MOH.
"Reusable masks such as masks issued by the People’s Association and Temasek Foundation also have good filtration efficiency."
MOH and the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) will issue guidelines to help the public in choosing good masks.
"WEAR A GOOD QUALITY MASK"
Elaborating on the updated mask advisory, MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak strongly encouraged people to "wear the mask properly and use a proper mask".
Assoc Prof Mak said that it is timely, amid rising community cases, to relook at the safe management advisories issued and to remind the public to adhere to them.
"We want to affirm and emphasise that it is important to use good quality masks," he said.
"Good quality masks worn well and properly provide an excellent form of protection for all of us," Assoc Prof Mak reiterated.
The filtration efficiency of disposable masks would normally be printed on the side of the masks' packaging, he added.
He also reminded the public that reusable masks have a certain lifespan - such masks should be replaced once they are used and washed beyond the recommended number of times.
"We continue to discourage the use of masks that have exhalation vents. These are masks that may make it more comfortable to use ... but they would not be adequate from the public health and infection control perspective of preventing infection spread," he said.
GO OUT ONLY FOR ESSENTIAL ACTIVITIES
Mr Wong reiterated earlier advice to stay at home as much as possible and go out only for essential activities. He also urged people to go for vaccination as soon as they are offered the jabs.
"As much as you can stay home and go out, only for essential activities. I think that will certainly help to break the transmission chain because if you are at home, you are not going out, then there is no likelihood for the virus to spread," he said.
MOH said that given the continued rise in community cases, people must exercise extra caution during this period of heightened alert to minimise potential transmission within the community, said MOH.
In response to a question from the media, Mr Wong also assured that mask supplies in Singapore are sufficient.
"On masks supplies, I think we are in a much better position today compared to a year ago, so there is no need to rush," he said.
Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong added that the ministry has put in place mask production capacity locally with several companies.
"Currently we already have local capability of producing surgical masks and we are also looking at the possibility of continuing to ramp up our imports of surgical masks. We also have built up significant stockpile of these masks," he said.
"I would assure Singaporeans that there's no need to panic and no need to rush to buy additional masks ... just buy what you need and the supplies will continue."
Watch the full news conference and subsequent Q&A session with journalists: