Emergency starter kits for all households

All households in Singapore will get three N95 masks delivered free to their homes from today, in the largest mask distribution exercise to date.

They are part of an emergency starter kit which will be delivered to all 1.2 million households by Monday, said Temasek Cares yesterday. The non-profit, philanthropic arm of Temasek Holdings is partnering Singapore Power and Singapore Post for the $4 million programme.

Aside from the 3M-manufactured masks, the kit will also contain information on how to wear the masks and emergency contact numbers.

Temasek Cares chairman Richard Magnus said the programme hopes to spur Singaporeans into thinking about emergency preparedness. "The starter kit includes three N95 masks so that each household can have an initial stock in case of a flu pandemic or severe haze," he said. "We hope (the kits) will prompt individuals and families to develop their own emergency plans."

Households with more than three people could consider buying more N95 masks, or bulk up their emergency "grab bags" by including medication or vitamins required by members of the family, Mr Magnus said.

Being prepared could also mitigate the problem of people rushing to buy products, such as masks, during emergencies.

Mr Magnus added: "Before the emergency arises, they would have already taken action so they are prepared - just like having an umbrella for a rainy day."

The starter kit initiative is the second project to tap the $40 million Temasek Emergency Preparedness Fund launched in March.

The first is a $1.5 million programme to train 60 social workers, therapists and school counsellors in trauma-focused therapy for children.

The fund, administered by Temasek Cares under its Stay Prepared initiative, aims to help Singaporeans build up community resources to deal with emergencies.

On top of the starter kits for households, 17,000 kits will go to 144 charities including the Metta Home for the Disabled and The Salvation Army Gracehaven. Another 300,000 will be on standby for needy families in case of a crisis. The mask distribution exercise is the largest to date. At the peak of the haze in June last year, one million N95 masks were earmarked for 200,000 of the poorest households and vulnerable Singaporeans.

During the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in 2003, two surgical masks and a thermometer were distributed to 1.1 million households.

Communications officer Jaclyn Sim, 31, said organisers could consider giving masks only to low-income households as those who earn more "can easily get their own". "To get Singaporeans thinking, a brochure with graphics depicting different emergency scenarios may be better," she added.

N95 masks can be stored for five years

THE N95 masks that went on sale during the haze period last year can still be used as they have a shelf life of five years.

But Ms Foo Meow Ling, a nurse clinician at the infection control unit at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said there should be "no air leakage around the face when the wearer exhales".

Ms Helen Foo, general manager at mask manufacturer and technology firm 3M, said: "After five years, the nose clip and elastic headband may loosen or disintegrate, leading to a poor face seal and affecting the effectiveness."

The masks should also be changed when "the wearer finds it hard to breathe, or when it is soiled or physically damaged", she added.

The N95 mask is "at least 95 per cent efficient against fine particles that are about 0.1 to 0.3 microns" in size, according to the Health Ministry's website. It is 99.5 per cent efficient against larger particles, such as those 0.75 microns and above. This makes it effective for use against the PM2.5 particle, an air pollutant associated with vehicle emissions and the haze that is less than 2.5 microns in size.

Masks should also be stored in their original packaging and in cool and dry conditions, said 3M's Ms Foo.


This article was published on May 6 in The Straits Times.

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