“No need to wear a mask unless ill” was what the government had been telling the public since January. However the government made a U-turn on 3 April when it announced it would “no longer discourage people who are well from wearing masks”.
It is now mandatory for all to wear a mask outside or risk getting fined $300.
Given that there is a risk of transmission from asymptomatic individuals, why did the government initially advise the public to only wear a mask if they have symptoms? Was it a misjudgment they did not want to admit or were they lying to Singaporeans?
Timeline of Events
“Wear a mask only if ill”
Since 24 January, the PM and the Multi-Ministry Taskforce have asked the public to only wear a mask when they are sick. Those who are well need not wear a mask.
The advice was then validated by several medical experts such as infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam, MP Dr Chia Shi-Lu and MOH director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.
On 30 January, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong announced that the government would give each household 4 surgical masks each, to be used if someone in the family really needs it.
Letter by four doctors
On 10 February, four medical practitioners Dr Tham Hoe Meng, Dr Colleen Thomas, Dr Judy Chen and Dr Lim Pin Pin signed a letter warning of the dangers of not wearing a mask as infected people with no symptoms could transmit the virus silently to others. Their advice was to wear a mask at all times and that any mask is better protection than no mask.
The four doctors’ views were downplayed by Assoc Prof Kenneth Mak who responded that wearing a mask is not the most important thing as people must remember that the virus is spread via droplets, with no evidence that it is airborne.
On 17 February, a leaked audio recording of Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing’s dialogue with business people from the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) began circulating on social media.
In the recording, he called Singaporeans “xia suay” or a disgrace for rushing to buy masks when surgical masks are not the solution.
Wear a mask
On 3 April, the government changed its stance on the issue of wearing of mask and announced a “circuit breaker” i.e. lockdown starting 7 April.
Short of making it mandatory to wear a mask outside, it said it would no longer discourage people who are well from wearing masks in light of evidence that an infected person can show no symptoms, and yet still pass on the virus to others, as well as undetected cases in the community.
The government also said it would distribute reusable masks to all households.
Mask-wearing is mandatory
On 14 April, the government announces that mask-wearing is mandatory. Those who do not risk a $300 fine for first time offenders.
In the end, it is sweet vindication for the four doctors who sounded the alert early. The same medical experts who discouraged mask wearing are now urging people to wear a mask.
The PAP government did not listen to views other than those it chose to listen to and was too proud to correct its mistake until it was too late and the number of cases was spiralling.
This entire prata-flipping episode reflects the incompetency of the 4G ministers and is “xia suay” on all levels.