No need to wear masks unless ill: Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman, GPC Health
Expert says that instead of protecting healthy people from viruses, wearing masks could make them less vigilant
More people can be seen out and about wearing surgical masks, whether in MRT trains, at work or at gatherings in public spaces.
Wearing such masks could soon be a part of daily life in Singapore as the Wuhan virus outbreak worsens, even though it offers only limited protection.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, told The New Paper yesterday that surgical masks should be used by people who are ill, and is not necessary for those who are healthy.
Dr Chia said: "The surgical masks can prevent the passing of virus from a wearer, but when it comes to protecting (a healthy wearer), the masks won't protect from viruses."
Surgical masks are flying off the shelves in Singapore as worries grow over the Wuhan virus. The masks can work on people who are ill as they will capture respiratory droplets, either from sneezing or coughing, and prevent them from reaching others.
Dr Chia said: "Viruses are passed most commonly through contact, such as when someone touches a contaminated door handle and then touches their face. The transmission is often not directly airborne."
The N95 masks that people wore during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003 is recommended for those trained in the medical profession as only they will know how to use them properly. When used properly, such masks will make it difficult to breathe in and the general public will not be comfortable using them.
Dr Chia said: "I understand the concern, but as of now, there is no need to buy masks or wear them unless you are ill.
"In fact, wearing masks can give people a false sense of security and cause them to be less aware or careful of their surroundings, and we don't want people to be doing that."
He urged Singaporeans to look at official advisories and get their information from trusted news outlets and reputable sources, including their doctor.
In an updated advisory on masks and mask wearing uploaded on gov.sg yesterday, the Ministry of Health stressed the importance of personal hygiene and urged the public to wash hands with soap, wear a mask if you have a runny nose or cough and to see a doctor if you are unwell.
The public is also advised not to eat raw and undercooked meats or go near live animals, including poultry and birds.