Wear a mask only if you are sick but do not wear masks if you are well.
Do not wear masks if you are well
In January, Singapore raised the DORSCON level from Green to Yellow. In reaction to the news, surgical masks are bought up, leaving shops empty despite buying quotas.
The Singapore government reacted by putting out the following advisory on mask use.
“Wear a surgical mask only if you feel unwell and have respiratory symptoms like a cough or a runny nose. Do not wear masks if you are well.“
A guide was put out on official channels to educate the population.
This guide was first seen on government websites in January 2020.
It has been removed on 2nd April 2020 with the change in mask advisory during PM Lee’s national address on the COVID-19 situation.
The initial advisory was based on WHO’s rapid advice – that no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons (Jan 29). This has been echoed by other Centres of Disease Control around the world.
Singapore has issued the “Do not wear masks if you are well” guidelines despite a contradicting health advisory issued by 4 seniors medical practitioners (Feb 10).
Surgical masks continued to be out of stock, with cases of profiteering occurring on e-commerce stores & retail listings.
Singapore’s advisory changes
|29th January 2020
|Do not wear masks if you are well
|3rd April 2020
|No longer discourage residents from wearing masks
Panic and hoarding
As Singapore grapples with new infections and developing clusters, the medical system is in full response mode to prepare for the pandemic.
As DORSCON shifted from Yellow to Orange (Feb 7), Singaporeans were is silent panic, buying up groceries from Sheng Shiong & NTUC, leading to empty shelves and perception of lack.
NTUC was quick to respond by introducing buying quotas and swift restocking of goods, leading to renewed confidence.
Videos of the national stockpile were also circulated on official platforms showcasing toilet paper, rice, instant noodles and other staples.
Chan Chun Sing’s leaked audio & comments
During a SCCCI closed door session, Minister Chan Chun Sing made comments about the situation in Singapore.
He revealed the strategy to conserve masks – that he took a gamble by issuing 4 masks to each household to “appease” the population from the lack of stock in shops. At least 67% of residents have collected the surgical masks during the exercise (Feb 27).
Apart from the alignment to the “Do not wear masks if you are well” advisory, Chan Chun Sing minced no words when he commented that Singaporeans are behaving in an embarrassing manner. The hoarding of food items, toilet paper & masks have led to a drop in confidence, reducing the business opportunities of the nation.
The minister besought the business group to retain workers as utmost priority, in order for Singaporean businesses to bounce back quickly once the pandemic is over.
Additionally, in what was considered comments that were uncalled for, the minister made comments on how Hong Kong was not wise in their handling of matters, especially when the Legislative Committee donned masks for their press conferences. The Committee and Miss Carrie Lam have remained gracious towards the comments.
The leaked audio was regarded as a clear breach of trust as the matters to be discussed were to be in confidence and are sensitive information.
The 25-minute clip was shared on social media, leading to speculation of government motives regarding mask advisories, which were unsubstantiated. Food security became a concern for the island nation which has hardly any natural resources.
All these happened just after Singapore raised DORSCON level to orange (Feb 7).
U-turn in mask advisory
With 1,481 confirmed cases, Singapore went on to change the advisory, from “Do not wear masks if you are well” to “No longer discourage residents from wearing masks”, leading to questions from residents.
The government has made this change citing new evidence that surgical masks do indeed prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Comments on social media have been thrusting the point that the initial advisory was inappropriate, that the clear words of “no evidence is available on its usefulness to protect non-sick persons” by the WHO meant a lack of studies regarding masks than a lack of protection from masks.
At that point in time, there were 6 deaths which were COVID-19 related, leading to further displeasure among netizens to comment that the “gamble” (cited from Chan Chun Sing) has been “playing” with lives.
Immediate reactions on social media
There is strong sentiment on social media that revolves around the point that Singapore should have begun donning masks in January referencing Taiwan’s mask export ban (Jan 24) to shore up masks supplies. The u-turn of advisory has further fueled the comments.
However, there simply isn’t enough stockpile of surgical masks to provide for all residents sustainably. Hence, it was conserved for front-line workers who need it to keep the medical system going.
This strong sentiment, however, is not representative of the residents as a whole. There have also been strong support towards the government, acknowledging that the task at hand is complex, and difficult decisions have to be made.
Singapore has the highest confirmed cases in South East Asia
Singapore is now the highest infected nation in South East Asia, breaking 15,000 cases, with majority of the cases happening in foreign worker dormitories.
Singaporeans have been making comments continually through the months of the pandemic, often citing “Do not wear masks if you are well” advisory as leading to high infection rates in the island nation.
In essence, the “Do not wear masks if you are well” advisory is speculated by netizens to be the leading cause of the high infection rates.
Eventual issuance of reusable masks
As part of the change in advisory, the Singapore government announced the issuance of one reusable mask for each resident, ensuring that the surgical masks are continued to be conserved for front-line workers.
This has supported the change in advisory and made it more palatable to the population, while ensuring everyone minimally has mask protection on a self-maintained basis.
The revocation of the “Do not wear masks if you are well” advisory is now seen as a past matter, with the focus on foreign worker dormitory containment measures & works.
Social distancing policies have reduced the local population infections to single digit numbers daily which is promising.
The work continues at the Ministry of Health, to ramp up testing and isolation capacities to prepare for the peak of infection among foreign workers.
The u-turn on “Do not wear masks if you are well” advisory yields a concise look at the efficacy of the government to shift strategies to meet changing needs during this pandemic.