Each household to get four free masks from Saturday
People urged to use masks responsibly amid panic-buying, hoarding over Wuhan virus
All 1.37 million households in Singapore will be given four surgical masks each as the authorities yesterday reassured people that there are enough masks for those who need them .
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong also warned against panic-buying and hoarding amid fears of catching the Wuhan virus.
Noting that batches of more than five million surgical masks released to retailers from the nation's stockpile in the past nine days were snapped up in just hours, he said the current rate of mask consumption is not sustainable.
This was despite retailers restricting every customer to one box, added Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on the Wuhan virus with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
"And you still hear people saying they need the masks but are unable to access them," Mr Wong said.
"So we have deliberated and decided we have to change our method of distribution."
To ensure all Singapore residents have access to masks, 5.2 million masks will be distributed to every household here.
The announcement comes as three new infections were confirmed yesterday, bringing the total to 13 so far. (Update: The figure has risen to 16 as of Friday, Jan 31).
All three patients are female Chinese nationals from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China, where there have been 170 deaths and more than 7,700 infections.
Residents can collect the masks from tomorrow until next Sunday, Feb 9, as they are made available progressively at the 89 community centres and 654 residents' committee centres across the island.
Priority will be given to Singaporeans and permanent residents, the vulnerable, Pioneer Generation and rental block residents.
Arrangements will be made for volunteers to conduct home visits and deliver the masks to residents unable to collect them.
During collection, residents must produce their identity card and have their residential address noted down to prevent people from collecting the masks more than once.
Mr Wong said the nation's stockpile of masks will also be prioritised for essential services, such as for healthcare workers.
He added: "We will have sufficient supply of masks in Singapore provided we all use them responsibly.
"You only wear a mask if you are not well and you have to go out to see a doctor. Those who are well do not need to wear a mask," said Mr Wong.
Amid skyrocketing demand for masks globally, Singapore is also sourcing for new suppliers while ensuring that existing supply lines continue to be robust.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing, who was also at the briefing, said that while the vast majority of Singaporeans are staying calm, some have been hoarding masks.
"I must emphasise that such behaviour - they are not appropriate. They are selfish and not helpful to our collective defence," he said.
The four masks per household are meant for contingencies, Mr Chan said.
"This is not a set of masks for us to take, open immediately, (and) use to go to the hawker centre," he added.
"These masks are to be kept in the household for members of the family who might get ill and need access to medical help."
If patients are assessed during medical assistance to require more masks , they will be provided, he added.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said it is probing retailers, including online platforms, which may be selling masks at inflated prices.
Stressing that Singapore will have adequate supplies as long as they are managed well, he said: "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."
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Facebook: "I understand your concerns and frustrations about not being able to get masks at retail stores, given the recent rush all over Singapore to buy them.
"Five million masks have been released to retailers in the past nine days, but demand has been higher than anticipated."
Where to get the masks
WHERE: Households in both public and private estates can collect the masks at the 89 Community Centres (CCs) and 654 Residents' Committee centres (RCs) across the island.
WHEN: The masks will be made available progressively at the RCs and CCs from 2pm to 10pm tomorrow until Feb 9. Collection hours from Sunday till Feb 9 will be 10am to 9pm.
WHO: Each household can collect one pack of four masks, with priority given to citizens and permanent residents. Areas with high numbers of vulnerable residents, rental block residents, and Pioneer Generation residents will also get priority.
Arrangements will be made to deliver the masks to the vulnerable who are unable to collect them.
HOW: Residents can check RC noticeboards, digital display panels and social media platforms for more details on when and where to collect the masks. They must bring their identity card for verification.