SINGAPORE: It is now mandatory to wear a mask when stepping out of the house, with some exceptions, announced Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Apr 14).
The mask-wearing requirement takes effect immediately, said Mr Wong who was speaking at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling COVID-19.
Individuals who are caught refusing to wear a mask will be fined S$300 on their first offence, while those who flout the rule a second time will be fined S$1,000. Egregious cases will be prosecuted in court, he added.
Foreign residents caught breaching these rules might have their work passes or permanent resident status revoked.
This applies to all workplace premises as well, the Ministry of Health said in its press release.
Both frontline staff members, such as food handlers, cashiers and bus drivers, as well as workers performing back office functions, like data entry personnel and payroll executives, must put on masks while on the job, the ministry added.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the the task force with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, noted that the Government had updated its advisory on masks based on the "latest medical and scientific advice”, and that the exercise to distribute reusable masks to Singaporeans was completed over the weekend.
“Now that we have distributed the mask to everyone and generally people have started to adjust to the new requirements or the advisory, we are making it mandatory for all,” said Mr Wong.
“The minute you leave your room, or you leave your house, you have to wear a mask when you go out.”
Children below the age of two will not need to wear a mask based on medical experts’ recommendations on child safety, he said.
As for adults, only those who are engaging in strenuous exercises like running and jogging do not have to wear a mask, but they will have to put it on once they stop exercising.
Mr Wong also reiterated the need for them to maintain a safe distance from others when they are exercising.
“Please do not use this mask-wearing requirement now to say ‘okay, I can go out’," said Mr Wong.
“You should not go out as much as possible. Just stay at home. Do all the right things - practice good hand hygiene and stay at home as much as possible,” he added.
“But in the rare occasion that you do need to go out for purchase of your groceries or purchase of essentials, then it's only at that time that you wear a mask.”
Mr Wong said movement across Singapore has reduced significantly, and with safe distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers “hard at work on the ground”, hotspots like wet markets, hawker centres and parks “are generally now under control”.
“We are very happy that many Singaporeans and residents are cooperating and doing their part and complying with these measures,” said Mr Wong.
“Most people are doing the right thing. There are a few who are not and they will be dealt with.”
According to the Ministry of Health, nearly 3,000 enforcement officers and ambassadors from more than 30 agencies have been deployed daily to public spaces in HDB estates across the island, to ensure that safe distancing measures are kept to.
Acknowledging that some people are finding it hard to adjust to the circuit breaker measures and are “suffering from cabin fever”, Mr Wong said the Government has had to reject many appeals for activities to be conducted.
“We cannot let up at this stage. These are still early days and we have at least another three more weeks to go. So we have to double down on our efforts and just stay at home.”
LIST OF ESSENTIAL SERVICES TO BE TIGHTENED
About 20 per cent of the workforce comprising essential workers continue to travel to their workplaces, Mr Wong noted. But the list of companies classified as essential services will be further tightened to reduce the number of people commuting to work.
All appeals to be considered an essential services company have been processed, he added.
Elderly workers who prefer to stay home should be allowed to do so if possible, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said.
But if the employee has to be on the job, they should be moved to a role which minimises their interactions with colleagues, and be given protective gear such as masks.
If these measures are still not possible, then the employer should allow the worker to clear their annual leave so that they continue to be paid, Mrs Teo said. Only if their annual leave is used up should the employer resort to putting the worker on unpaid leave.
On top of wearing masks, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed that observing personal hygiene is still "a very critical factor" in disrupting the transmission chain.
“This is particularly important during this period of enhanced safe distancing," he said.
"And that is why we have also enhanced our advisory on the masks and now making it mandatory when you go out, because we want to do everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission, so as to keep our keep our number of cases to as low as possible. And this is in line with our strategy of this enhanced safe distancing approach over the next few weeks.”
The Government will review whether there is a need to extend the circuit breaker period when it ends, said Mr Gan, and whether adjustments to the various measures are needed.
“It's also important to bear in mind that even at the end of the circuit breaker, with or without extension, it's not likely that we will open this entire system altogether and then free for all, everybody do what they like. It is going to be a gradual opening.
“We may tighten some measures, we may relax some measures, we may fine tune some of the measures. So it's not end of (the circuit breaker) period and then that's it, everything else back to normal.”
Mr Gan added that if the measures were going be relaxed, it would be “a gradual process”, dependent on the risk assessment at that time.
“I think that we should not have the idea that at the end of the circuit breaker, everything will revert back to normal and we don't have to wear a mask anymore, we don't have to do safe distancing anymore," he said.
“I think many of these measures, even if we were to relax them, it’s going to be a gradual process, beyond the circuit breaker period.”