TL;DR – Sure. But if it helps, so what if there’s a U-turn?
I hate wearing masks.
I find it really uncomfortable. So I was quite upset that the government suddenly made it mandatory for people to wear masks the moment they are out of their own homes, unless you are doing strenuous exercises. What a reversal from an earlier position where the government was saying that people should only wear masks if they were ill. Such a big U-turn!
Those staunchly anti-PAP people are baying for blood. They say that the government should have made it mandatory for people to wear masks earlier. If the government did that, we would not be in such a situation now, they claimed. If the government had made it mandatory for people to wear masks from the beginning, then we would not have had the “explosion” in number of cases that we are facing now.
But imagine if the government had made it mandatory for people to wear masks, and then the COVID-19 virus turned out to be not that transmissible. What would those anti-PAP people have said?
Probably something along the lines of “Why government overreact? Make us all wear masks? So wasteful!”
Or it turned out that cases continued to climb significantly even after making it mandatory for people to wear mask. What would those anti-PAP people have said?
Probably something along the lines of “Why make us all wear masks? Also no use! Should have used the money to do something else lah!”
In other words, there will always be something that people can criticise the government for.
And bear in mind, COVID-19 virus is a new virus. The situation at the start of this year had a lot of unknown unknowns. How long transmissible is this thing? How deadly is it? How will other countries respond? How long will it last in China? And the rest of the world? Will there be waves of infection just as one wave is about to end? Is it airborne or aerosol or droplet transmission? Should we stay 1m, 1.5m or 2m away from everyone? Too many questions, and too few answers.
Even now, we don’t quite know the answers to all those questions. But we know a bit more. COVID-19 is quite highly transmissible. Worse, there can be people who have COVID-19, but don’t show symptoms (i.e. asymptomatic). And these people can still infect other people while they go on and about their everyday lives, not knowing they’re carrying and spreading the virus. That’s something that scientists only started to confirm not too long ago.
So while we don’t know if healthy people wearing masks will help reduce the infection rate, we are now more confident to say that seemingly healthy people who have COVID-19 and wear masks can help reduce the infection rate. And hence the U-turn.
Now even if we had known about this in the early part of the year when we first saw the outbreak, could we have made it mandatory for everyone to wear masks?
Recall the situation back then.
China was gripped by the crisis. China, which produces and accounts for half the world’s supply of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), stopped all exports of masks and PPEs. Because it needed all those masks and PPEs for itself. ST Engineering had production lines in Taiwan producing masks. But back in the start of the year, Taiwan banned all exports of masks, even those made by ST Engineering. So even our own Singaporean company which was producing masks couldn’t send masks back to Singapore.
Under those circumstances, if the government had made wearing masks mandatory, then our hospitals and healthcare professionals won’t have enough. And that would have led to a bigger problem. Haven’t you read about how medical workers in some countries had to resort to reusing their masks? And some had to wear garbage bags as PPE.
But now, as China seems to have gotten the COVID-19 situation under control, it is no longer hogging the supply of masks. Their factories are also up and running now that workers are back to work. And Singapore has moved the production lines that were in Taiwan back to Singapore, and possibly even ramped up capacity to produce more masks, including getting reusable ones for everyone in Singapore. So that, and the information that people with COVID-19 without symptoms can infect others make a strong case for making everyone wear masks when going out.
Is that a U-turn? Yes, you can call it that.
Will it help stop the spread? Probably.
Do we want to protect Singaporeans? Definitely yes.
So why not U-turn when new information and new resources have emerged so that we can better protect Singaporeans? You can also call it being sensitive to the dynamics of a situation and being responsive.
But the most important piece of the puzzle is that everyone should, as far as possible, stay at home. That, more than wearing masks, is what will let us get the situation under control.
So… Remember to be a responsible part of the CB for the next few weeks!
(Featured image via)