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Made-in-Singapore surgical masks given to frontline healthcare workers in fight against Covid-19: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE — Since mid-February 2020, engineering firm Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering has begun domestic production of medical-grade surgical masks and the masks are now being tried and fitted at Singapore's hospitals that are in the frontline fight against Covid-19.

ST Engineering’s production facility in Singapore will solely focus on supplying medical-grade surgical masks for the frontline healthcare workers at hospitals here tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

ST Engineering’s production facility in Singapore will solely focus on supplying medical-grade surgical masks for the frontline healthcare workers at hospitals here tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

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SINGAPORE — Since mid-February 2020, engineering firm Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering has begun domestic production of medical-grade surgical masks and the masks are now being tried and fitted at Singapore's hospitals that are in the frontline fight against Covid-19. 

In an online interview with the media on Wednesday (May 6), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore had to restart its domestic production capabilities when one of its foreign suppliers could not fulfil its contractual obligations recently to produce surgical masks. 

He did not specify the name of the foreign supplier. 

There used to be manufacturers here that produced surgical masks but that stopped more than 10 years ago. 

For now, ST Engineering’s production facility in Singapore will solely focus on supplying medical-grade surgical masks for the frontline healthcare workers at hospitals here tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. It has been making N95 masks in Singapore since 2015.

As for future plans, Mr Gareth Tang, senior vice-president of technology at ST Engineering Innosparks, said in the same online interview via Zoom video conferencing platform that the company may consider manufacturing surgical masks for commercial purposes after the pandemic is over. 

ST Engineering may consider manufacturing surgical masks for commercial purposes after the Covid-19 pandemic is over. Photo: Ministry of Trade and Industry

The general public’s need for masks will be met through the distribution of reusable masks or through the commercial market, where companies such as supermarkets and pharmacies may bring in their own supplies of masks and sell to residents here. 

Many companies here have also started setting up their own mask-making facilities to help in the nationwide fight against the coronavirus, Mr Chan said. 

One example is gaming company Razer, which has a fully automated manufacturing line that can produce up to five million face masks a month.

The production of masks by other companies other than ST Engineering may not meet the medical-grade standards to be included in the national stockpile, and so could be used to sell in the market to the general public instead. 

When there was a worldwide shortage of surgical masks at the initial stages of the Covid-19 outbreak, Mr Chan said that Singapore started making contingency plans such as switching to alternative sources of suppliers and restarting domestic production. 

However, even with production lines being set up here, he said that the common challenge is still the need to secure the raw materials. 

“It’s not just simply about having the machines to produce the masks and the manpower, but also to secure a sustainable supply of raw materials,” he said.

For example, he explained that each of the three layers making up a surgical mask are made from raw materials that come from different supply chains and the authorities have to make sure that each one is sustainable. 

Mr Tang said that it was very challenging to set up ST Engineering’s production facility because they had to do it in “record time” from the beginning of the outbreak in Singapore from end-January to mid-February. 

Another challenge was due to the disruptions in supply chains across the world as countries go into lockdown to curb the spread of the virus. 

Mr Chan declined to reveal the production capacity of the facility or the volume of masks that Singapore requires to prevent any potential disruption to supplies. 

When asked about the time needed to produce enough masks to fully cater to the needs of healthcare workers, Mr Chan did not want to reveal that as well, except to say that the Government is “confident” in meeting their needs “for quite some time”. 

“We have arrived at a reasonable point where we are quite confident that we can take care of our medical workers in Singapore.”

When TODAY asked about talk in the past few months that Taiwan’s export ban on masks affected Singapore’s supply, Mr Chan declined to comment. 

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Covid-19 coronavirus mask healthcare workers ST Engineering

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