Singapore — After news that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was spreading in China, surgical masks were snapped up in Singapore, with long queues snaking outside stores, and a few unscrupulous merchants raising prices.
There were photos of people with boxes of surgical masks, leading some people to wonder if the supply would be enough for the country’s needs for the duration of the outbreak.
Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing gave the assurance that Singapore’s supply of masks would be enough, as long as these were used properly. The masks, according to officials, are really for people who are already ill in order to prevent others from getting sick. For healthy people, hand hygiene is far more important.
The Government also set in motion a plan to make sure that Singaporeans who fell ill would have enough masks. It began the distribution of four masks per family last Saturday (Feb 1).
But in a country where it’s a standing joke that standing in line is one of its national pastimes, there were, surprisingly, few to no queues at the distribution centres.
Some reports said that the volunteers facilitating the distribution even outnumbered those arriving to collect the masks, despite the fact that the distribution started on a weekend.
Mr Darryl David, Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC, in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Feb 4) highlighted how members in his community club were “serving around the clock” to “actively distribute masks to residents as part of our nation’s efforts in fending against the novel coronavirus”.
Meanwhile, The Redwire Times quotes a member of the People’s Association staff at Woodlands Zone 1 RC as saying that only 10 per cent of residents had collected their masks.
Writing for the social-political site, Ronald Wong asked: “What’s going on, and who’s snapping up all those cost-money face masks when few even care about getting free ones?
“Could it be that a small population of Singaporeans is just more kan cheong (anxious) than others?
“Has the government over-reacted and wasted all the effort of those poor NS boys in the packing room?”
There could be a number of reasons why there are no long lines at government distribution points.
For one, it’s possible that many Singaporeans have stocked up on the masks. They may have been part of the long queues in the early days of the outbreak and already have boxes of them at home. Since the government distribution was scheduled after people started storing up on masks, this is a plausible explanation.
Secondly, the distribution period is spread out over several hours and so it’s possible for people not to have to line up to collect the masks.
Therefore, the impression that people may not be queuing for masks may just be that, an impression, or may be because of some valid reasons.
Former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Calvin Cheng similarly wrote that he hardly sees anyone wearing masks on the streets, but much noise has been made online that there is a shortage of surgical and other masks, which people have used to prevent getting sick. On the other hand, there seem to be no lines forming when the government gives away surgical masks for free.
This has caused him to ask: “Are we living in alternate realities?”
A number of netizens answered that it was possible people thought that four masks were simply too few to bother collecting. After all, the health authorities have said that the masks should be changed after each use. Others say they believe that since there has been no community spread yet, people feel there is no need to wear the mask. Yet others pointed out that distribution simply hasn’t started in all communities yet.
Whatever the reason, for Singaporeans not lining up remains a mystery for some. /TISG
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