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Singapore is building up mask stockpile, but people should not take availability of masks for granted: Chan Chun Sing

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans should not take the availability of masks for granted, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Thursday (May 21), as he stressed the need for the country to continue diversifying its sources of production and building its stockpile to prevent any potential disruption.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left) said that the general public should wear reusable masks instead of surgical masks, which should be conserved for healthcare workers.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing (left) said that the general public should wear reusable masks instead of surgical masks, which should be conserved for healthcare workers.

SINGAPORE — Singaporeans should not take the availability of masks for granted, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Thursday (May 21), as he stressed the need for the country to continue diversifying its sources of production and building its stockpile to prevent any potential disruption.

“I just want to emphasise this point: Nobody knows how long and how widespread this (Covid-19) pandemic will be. And one should never be complacent about any supply lines, including masks. Not just for masks… for food, medical supplies and so forth,” Mr Chan said.

That was his response to a question from the media about the country's resilience in terms of mask supply. Mr Chan was at Pek Kio Community Centre, where he announced the details of the latest nationwide mask distribution exercise.

Six million reusable masks have been prepared for all residents in Singapore, Mr Chan said.

The new masks, which will be available for collection at all 109 community clubs and 661 residents’ committee centres from May 26, are made of at least three layers of material, and have a bacterial filtration efficiency of at least 95 per cent even after 30 washes.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing trying out a vending machine that dispenses the improved reusable masks at Pek Kio Community Centre on May 21, 2020. Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

While addressing members of the media, Mr Chan talked about how Singapore’s stockpiling of masks, which includes N95, surgical and reusable masks, has “progressed”.

The issue of the national stockpile of masks came to the fore earlier this year, when there were instances of hoarding and panic buying of masks, just as the coronavirus outbreak was developing in the city of Wuhan, China.

In January, the Government released five million masks from the national stockpile to retailers, only to see them snapped up within hours of their release.

It then distributed a pack of four surgical masks to each of the 1.37 million Singapore households between Feb 1 and 9.

DOMESTIC PRODUCTION

Singapore has been building up domestic production of face masks.

Since February, for instance, engineering firm Singapore Technologies Engineering started producing medical-grade surgical masks.

The masks were then tried and fitted at Singapore's hospitals that are in the frontline fight against Covid-19.

In April, Mr Chan said in Parliament that Singapore is building its own capacity of masks, though he did not mention what the production capacity is.

He addressed his reluctance to share the numbers with members of the media on Thursday.

“We will not share that exact number for security reasons, because it affects how we negotiate with people for future supply,” Mr Chan said. “Some people may not want to sell to you, some people may want... so it depends.”

N95 masks are being produced domestically for healthcare workers and for protection against the haze, he said, before addressing the stockpile of surgical masks.

“For the national healthcare needs, which includes both the private and the public sector, we are quite comfortable because we have built up a stockpile, both through overseas sourcing and through domestic production,” he said.

He added that the stockpile of surgical masks for non-healthcare usage is also being built up, pointing out that the availability of these masks in pharmacies has stabilised.

Efforts are also in place to stockpile reusable masks, like the ones that have been given out as well as the new variety, he said.

Singapore is not the only country stockpiling the new reusable masks, Mr Chan said.

Efforts are in place to stockpile both surgical masks and reusable masks, like the ones that have been given out as well as the new variety (above). Photo: Ooi Boon Keong/TODAY

“Other countries have done the same thing, to go after the same manufacturers (of these masks),” he said. He did not name the countries.

Despite the progress made in building up its stockpile of masks, Mr Chan said that the Government will never be “overconfident”.

“We have projected our demand and then we will make sure that we allow the supply to come in both domestically to fulfil it and also from overseas sourcing.”

The Ministry of Trade and Industry, Mr Chan said, looks at Singapore’s supply line “every day to see what are the potential demand and supply issues that we have to contend with two to three months out”.

Mr Chan also said that the general public should use reusable masks instead of surgical masks, which should be conserved for healthcare workers.

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Covid-19 coronavirus masks stockpile Chan Chun Sing

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