Lawrence Wong explains why govt changes position on mask wearing now

Now can wear a reusable mask if you are well but still have to save on surgical masks.

Zhangxin Zheng | April 03, 2020, 07:13 PM

If you are still confused about whether to wear a mask or not, the short answer is you can put on a reusable mask if you are well and wish to do so.

Prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and the Multi-ministry Task Force (MTF) for Covid-19 have said on April 3 that the government will not discourage people from wearing a face mask if they want to given the recent changes in the situation.

Reusable masks will also be given out to Singaporeans, starting with the vulnerable groups, such as the senior citizens.

If you are wondering why the change in stance now, and should the government have allowed people to wear masks from the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, read on.

The co-chair of MTF, Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong shared three considerations on this matter during the press conference on April 3.

New information calls for the need to review measures

Wong said that the government's decision on whether healthy people should wear masks or not follows the scientific evidence and World Health Organisation's advice.

However, Singapore is in a different situation now as compared to a month back.

The government is also informed by new information such as more asymptomatic patients being identified.

When these hidden carriers speak, the virus can be spread via droplets and when in close proximity.

Therefore, even WHO and the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (US CDC) are reviewing their own guidelines for Covid-19.

Community spread of Covid-19 in Singapore

Wong added that other than new evidence about Covid-19, there is also a community spread in Singapore that we did not experience before.

Wong said that Singapore is seeing an increase in local cases and possibly undetected carriers in the community which prompt the update in government's measures.

However, there is still a need to conserve surgical masks for the healthcare workers who need them to care for the patients.

In light of the global shortage, Singapore is also trying to build up local capabilities to produce masks.

Implementing measures too early might create public fatigue

Lastly, Wong explained that while the government could certainly implement these measures very much earlier, there are concerns from relevant experts when they look at these safe distancing measures.

Wong raised the possibility of public fatigue in abiding by measures for a sustained period of time and that might reduce the effectiveness of putting on face masks.

He said: "If you were to put them in place too early, there might be fatigue and when there's fatigue, people might not abide by measures so well and it might not be effective."

Besides the concern over behavioural fatigue, Wong added that implementing the measures too early will also cause disruption to people's lives and that might be "counterproductive".

Now is the right time

Therefore, it is important to implement measures at the "right time", Wong added.

Wong, however, assured that Singapore is still implementing these "circuit breaker" measures at a relatively early stage of the infection cycle as compared to other countries.

The government has not given up on containment but at the same time they think more has to be done now, Wong said.

Top photo by Syahindah Ishak's screenshot