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Govt reverses policy on face shields but allows children to continue wearing ineffective protective gear

Children aged 12 and under, teachers, and those with medical conditions that make it difficult for them to wear face masks, are allowed use face shields in lieu of face masks

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Although the Government has reversed its earlier stance that face shields can be worn in lieu of face masks, it is still allowing children under the age of 12 to wear face shields without having to wear masks.

Earlier, the Government said that people can wear either face masks or face shields when they leave their house since this gives adequate protection against coronavirus. At least one ruling party politician was also spotted wearing a face shield without a mask and distributing face shields to market stallholders.

On Monday (1 June), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the multi-ministry COVID-19 taskforce has reviewed this policy and decided that face shields are not as effective as masks in reducing the risk of virus transmission. He said:

“We know that Covid-19 is spread predominantly through droplets. While face shields may provide some protection, the design of face shields typically leaves a gap between the face and the shield, which means that the wearer could still be depositing droplets. This is unlike masks.”

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This means that a COVID-positive patient could more easily spread the infection to others if he was wearing a face shield, compared to a face mask.

The Government’s policy review comes as Singapore partially lifts circuit breaker measures and allows workers to return to work on site and students to return to school. Pointing out that the re-opening of Singapore would lead to increased contact between people in the community, Mr Gan said:

“Therefore, safe distancing measures, personal hygiene and the use of masks will become more important to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.”

While the Government has decided that face shields don’t provide enough protection and that face masks are to be the default option for people who go out, Mr Gan said that face shields could play a complementary role, by shielding the eyes, for example.

The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, added that the policy reversal was made on the basis of being “more cautious.” He said:

“Face shields may continue, however, to augment the use of masks but the mask wearing will be the default. If a face shield is worn, it has to be worn in such a way that it’s worn properly to cover the entire face from the forehead to below the chin, wrapping around the sides of the face.”

Despite the reversal on its policy, the Government is allowing children aged 12 and under, teachers, and those with medical conditions that make it difficult for them to wear face masks, to continue using face shields in lieu of face masks.

Earlier, a medical doctor criticised the Government’s recommendation that schoolchildren can use “flimsy” face shields in lieu of masks when they return to school.

Dr Mary Tan, an anaesthesiologist who practices at Mount Alvernia Hospital, pointed out that face shields — which are a plastic piece secured in front of the face with a headband — have zero filtration and do not protect wearers from respiratory droplets.

Noting that the Government had rectified the initial “mistake” of telling people that they did not need to wear masks by later making it mandatory for them to do so in public, Dr Tan asked why the Government was now regressing in its stance on masks and telling the public that it was fine to use face shields, which she described as “flimsy”. She wrote:

Dr Tan said that doctors like her are “already very concerned with leakiness around normal surgical face masks” and asked about the scientific basis for the Government to recommend the use of face shields. She said:

Doctor: Why reopen schools during “weak” Covid-19 prevention measures?

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