N95 masks were meant for health workers in an epidemic

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong distributing N95 masks to lower-income households.

SINGAPORE - Singapore's stockpile of nine million N95 masks was not readily available in the shops last month because they were meant for an infectious-disease epidemic, said Dr Ng Eng Hen in Parliament.

The masks, which filter out small particles, were not originally for the public. They were kept by the Government to prevent the spread of disease to health-care workers, he explained.

"That stockpile is quite important in case, touch wood, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (a virus similar to Sars) viruses come here," he said on Monday. "So the way they were stored... the assumption was for a particular rate of use."

He was responding to MPs' concerns that there were delays and bottlenecks getting N95 masks to the public during last month's haze episode - a major concern which saw queries from six legislators.

Dr Ng, who is Defence Minister and chairman of an inter-ministerial haze committee, explained that retailers' distribution channels could not cope with the spike in demand. "There are few systems where one day to the next, your demand is one day, 5,000; the next, one million," he said.

But despite the crunch, the Government decided to provide for the needy, he added, distributing about a million masks to 200,000 households.

"We didn't know how long the haze would last," he said in response to a question from Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC)."There wasn't really a shortage, but out of concern that the poor and vulnerable would not be able to get (masks), we met and decided that ministries would push the masks out."

For more haze updates from AsiaOne, click here:

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