ICA: Frontline officers don't wear masks because risk from transient contact assessed to be 'low'

Mask or no mask?

Jeanette Tan| January 31, 08:22 PM

Why do the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA)'s frontline staff not wear masks even though they meet thousands of travellers each day?

It's because, the ICA says, their contact with the general public and travellers passing through our immigration counters is too transient to result in potential virus transmission.

The ICA said this in a statement shared with Mothership on Friday (Jan. 31) in response to complaints from some parties online that frontline staff were not accorded their necessary protection from the ongoing Wuhan virus outbreak.

They pointed out that health authorities here define the level of close contact necessary for virus transmission to be an exposure of at least 30 minutes, within two metres of a person who is infected.

Hence, officers who are well do not need to wear a mask, and those who are not well, especially if they have any flu symptoms, should put on a mask and seek medical attention immediately, ICA said.

Additionally, those assigned to perform clearance duties on travellers with various respiratory symptoms will wear masks and disposable gloves.

ICA stressed that the well-being of its officers is of utmost importance, and will adjust its measures as Ministry of Health guidelines evolve as well, as the current situation changes.

Here's their full statement:

"The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) is aware of claims made in a Facebook post by user “Manju Balakrishnan” that officers at the checkpoints are not allowed to wear masks while on duty.

ICA officers who are manning immigration counters or interacting with the general public are not required to wear surgical masks. This is because the risk of infection from such transient contact is assessed to be low. The health authorities generally define the level of close contact that is necessary for virus transmission as an exposure of at least 30 minutes within two metres of an infected person.

We have therefore advised our officers that they do not need to wear a mask if they are well. Officers who are unwell and have a fever, cough or runny nose should put on a surgical mask, and seek medical attention promptly.

ICA officers who are assigned to perform clearance duties on travellers with respiratory symptoms (e.g. fever, cough, shortness of breath) will don surgical masks and disposable gloves.

The well-being of our officers is of utmost importance, and ICA is committed to ensuring the health and safety of our officers. ICA has also been providing hand sanitisers to our officers for their personal hygiene. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust our measures accordingly in line with MOH guidelines."

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Top photos by Desmond Ang via ICA website