SINGAPORE: Each Singapore household will receive four surgical face masks, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (Jan 30), amid worries over the Wuhan coronavirus and long queues for masks at retailers across the island.
The masks – a pack of four sealed in a bag – will be made available progressively at 89 Community Centres (CCs) and 654 Residents' Committee (RC) centres.
Collection will start on Feb 1 and is expected to be completed by Feb 9.
Mr Wong said the distribution is a "one-time exercise" where masks from Singapore’s national stockpile are being released directly to the public.
“We are doing this to assure Singaporeans that every family will have access to masks if someone in your family really needs it,” he added.
Priority for the stockpile will be given to healthcare workers at the frontline.
For public distribution, priority will be given to areas with high numbers of vulnerable residents as well as rental block residents and Pioneer Generation residents.
For residents who are not able to collect the masks themselves, the People's Association will mobilise volunteers to send the masks to them, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who is deputy chairman of the People's Association.
Subsequent needs for additional masks will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, he added.
The move to distribute masks came after long queues and empty shelves for face masks were seen at retailers islandwide.
Mr Chan said 5 million masks have been released to retailers in the past nine days, but the usage has been much higher than expected.
"We understand when people are fearful there is a tendency for them to panic buy or hoard," he said.
But not managing the usage “will jeopardise our entire healthcare system, not allowing us to take care of those who need it the most”.
While most Singaporeans are staying calm, some have taken to hoarding masks, said Mr Chan.
"Such behaviour - they are not appropriate, they are selfish and they are not helpful to our collective defence," he said.
SAF TO PACK 200,000 MASKS A DAY
The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will pack the masks and deliver them to the CCs, where the People's Association will distribute them to the public.
It will take seven days to pack the masks, with about 200,000 expected to be packed each day.
This is not the first time the SAF is conducting such an operation – during the haze crisis in 2013, it similarly packed and distributed more than 1 million masks to the public through the People's Association.
Collection of masks for both public and private estates will start progressively at RCs and CCs from 2pm on Saturday.
For details on when and where to collect their masks, residents should check their community noticeboards, digital display panels and Government's social media platforms.
Residents will have to bring their NRIC to verify their address when they collect the masks.
Collection hours on Feb 1 will be from 2pm to 10pm and on subsequent days, from 10am to 9pm.
Residents can check RC noticeboards, digital display panels and the Government's social media platforms on when and where to collect the masks.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong urged Singaporeans to use the masks responsibly.
"Do not open up the packet and start using them right away. Use it only if you’re unwell and have to go out to see the doctor," he said.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said that mask distribution would start for HDB estate residents before distribution for private estate residents. This has been updated following corrected information provided by PA.