Singapore begins distribution of free masks

SINGAPORE (CNA) – When the Hougang Community Club opened its doors at 2pm recently for the first day of mask collection, there were as many volunteers waiting as there were residents in line.

“We had about 10 to 20 people in the queue in the first hour so we cleared that very fast,” said Community Club Management Committee chairman for Hougang SMC Joel Leong. “It was a very small queue … We haven’t seen a big crowd (in the first two hours).

These scenes were similar to those at other distribution centres across the island, during a largely uneventful first day of mask collection for members of the public

Earlier in the week, it was announced that each Singapore household will receive four surgical face masks, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said, amid worries over the Wuhan coronavirus and long queues for masks at retailers across the island.

The masks – a pack of four sealed in a bag – will be progressively made available at 89 Community Centres (CCs) and 654 Residents’ Committee (RC) centres, he said.

Collection of the masks, which are free, is expected to be completed by February 9.

A total of 1,500 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel packed 5.2 million surgical masks for distribution to the public.

A resident receives a pack of free face masks at a distribution centre in Singapore. PHOTO: AFP

In a Facebook update on Saturday, SAF said the packing of masks had been completed.

SAF also commended personnel who worked around the clock to pack the masks for delivery to community centres and community clubs.

When CNA visited Woodlands Zone 1 Residents’ Committee Centre at 1.30pm, distribution counters had been set up, with fewer than five residents milling about, hoping to secure a mask early.

Five minutes before distribution time, queues of about 10 people had formed.

“I expected (a line of people) that’s why I came here to see my chances of getting it earlier,” said a resident who only wanted to be known as Tan. “I came here to collect it just in case myself or my family members needed it, it’s nice to know that at least this is being issued.”

At the Kampong Chai Chee Linear Green Residents’ Network (RN) at Bedok, there was a steady stream of residents collecting masks but no queue when CNA visited at 5.30pm.

RN Chairman Jason Ng described the collection process as “orderly”.

“We thought there would be more people… but it turned out quite okay,” he said. “This was because we staggered the collection time for different blocks. We were worried it would be overcrowded in the first place, (so this was) to make sure that they come down in different timings.

“Initially, it was slightly more but as time went by, the crowd got lesser and lesser. It was quite orderly.”

While residents were pleased with the initiative, it was pointed out that four masks could potentially not be enough for larger families.

“There are times when we need to bring the kids to the hospital or clinic so this will come in handy,” said Ng Wei Ping, who has three children. “This initiative is good but it’s just that for my family, we have more than four people.”

At the Hougang Community Club earlier in the evening, 15 people collected masks within 40 minutes. One of those who had collected the masks was Tan Kim Keong. “I expected there would be a lot of people at 2pm,” he said. “I think most Singaporeans would have wanted to come later … The process was quite fast.”