Coronavirus: Face masks to be default option for people when out, face shields don't provide enough protection

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong noted that face shields will continue to be play a complementary role, by shielding the eyes, for instance.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - People will have to wear face masks instead of face shields when they leave home, following a review of an earlier policy in which either option had been allowed.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Monday (June 1) that the task force combating the Covid-19 outbreak has decided that face shields are not as effective as masks in reducing the risk of virus transmission.

"We know that Covid-19 is spread predominantly through droplets," said Mr Gan.

"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."

So an infected person wearing a face shield would be more likely to spread Covid-19 to someone else, compared with a person wearing a face mask.

Only specific groups will be allowed to wear face shields in place of face masks.

This includes teachers, as it might not be practical for them to wear face masks while teaching. Those with medical conditions which prevent them from wearing face masks, such as those with breathing difficulties, will also be exempt.

Children below 12 years of age are also allowed to continue wearing face shields.

The Ministry of Health had earlier said that all types of masks, including face shields and reusable and homemade masks, offer adequate basic protection for the general public.

Children below 12 years of age are allowed to continue wearing face shields. PHOTO: Temasek Foundation

Mr Gan said the Government had reviewed its policy in line with the partial lifting of the circuit breaker measures starting on Tuesday (June 2), which would lead to more contact between people at the workplace and in the community.

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

But he noted that face shields will continue to be play a complementary role, by shielding the eyes, for instance.

The Health Ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said the review of the stance on face shields was made on the basis of being "more cautious".

"Face shields may continue, however, to augment the use of masks but the mask wearing will be the default," he said.

"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."

Prof Mak said that flexibility will be exercised initially, in enforcing the wearing of masks.

The aim of enforcement officials will be to educate and encourage people to do the right thing, he added.

"But certainly, we will identify people who are recalcitrant, who are not wearing masks when they should be wearing masks... These are situations where we will have to enforce the rule."

He said that people doing television broadcasts are also currently exempt from wearing both face masks or shields. They will continue to be exempt as long as their work is carried out in a safe and controlled environment.

"Notwithstanding the review of our mask and face shield policy... from tomorrow onwards, we would still advise the general public to stay at home if they don't have anything necessary to do outdoors," he stressed.

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.