Experts warn against easing of mask-wearing rules outdoors
Mask-wearing rules should not be eased until the impact of such a move on the healthcare system is deemed to be minimal, said infectious diseases specialist David Lye.
This assessment is likely to be dependent on the number of unvaccinated seniors over the age of 60, said Associate Professor Lye, who is director of the Infectious Disease Research and Training Office at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
"If everyone can bring the remaining 80,000 unvaccinated seniors to get vaccinated, it will be really helpful," he said.
While it is understandable that many are tired of Covid-19, Prof Lye said it is too early to consider relaxing restrictions now, given the ongoing rise in daily new cases.
"With rising cases that need oxygen or intensive care, and deaths, this is not the time to relax safe management measures. Eventually, when we are certain that the impact on our healthcare system is minimal from Covid-19, our Government may relax mask-wearing outdoors."
He was responding to a suggestion by Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim that Singapore should move towards relaxing mask-wearing rules in certain outdoor settings.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Associate Professor Lim said masks work in containing transmission and remain an important tool in Singapore's fight against Covid-19. But he said the risk of transmission outdoors is "far lower" compared with indoors.
"My view is that we should move towards relaxing our outdoor masking rules, except perhaps where there is still close interpersonal contact, such as in markets and other crowded spaces, but insist on strict adherence indoors," said the Sengkang GRC MP.
Experts who spoke to The Straits Times agreed that the transmission rate in outdoor settings is generally lower than in indoor settings, but noted that this depends on several factors and it can be complicated to apply such a policy.
Dr Tan Teck Jack, who is chief executive of Northeast Medical Group and holds a master's degree in public health, said the authorities have to weigh the risks when formulating any policy, as well as other factors such as ease of implementation and whether the policy is simple and easily understood.
"I would err on the side of caution and keep the mask policy intact."
Prof Lye was concerned that loosening mask requirements outdoors could weaken the public's mask-wearing habit in general.
Mask-wearing remains one of the most effective and cheapest ways of reducing one's risk of contracting Covid-19 and other respiratory diseases like influenza, he said.