TL:DR – Still, “We should try to prioritise mask stockpile for our hospital workers, who are at the frontline of this fight.”
Know what’s a PQ? It stands for Parliamentary Question. Basically, MPs can raise PQs to any Minister on any matter in his portfolio. PQs may be answered in Parliament or as a written answer.
Here’s the official definition of what a PQ is,
(Parliamentary) Question for Oral/Written Answer
As the Government is answerable to Parliament, Members may raise a query to any Minister on any matter in his portfolio. Questions may also be put to other Members relating to a Bill, motion or other public matter connected with the business of Parliament for which such Members are responsible. Seven clear days’ notice is required for all questions.
A Member can file up to five questions for each sitting day, of which not more than three of these questions shall be for oral answer. During Question Time, the relevant Minister will give a verbal reply to the question for oral answer. Any Member can then ask supplementary questions. Answers to questions for written answer are circulated to Members and published in the Official Report.
One of the PQs filed by Gan Thiam Poh, MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, saw a written answer by the Ministry of National Development last week, and it makes for interesting reading.
Mr Gan Thiam Poh: To ask the Prime Minister:
- What lessons can be learnt from the recent corona virus outbreak;
- What can be improved upon to better equip and prepare Singaporeans, including education in total defence, against a pandemic outbreak; and
- Whether the Government will include production of masks and other medical protective gears as a strategic facility and support of the investment of such a facility in Singapore.
Written Answer by Ministry of National Development on COVID-19
Singapore has faced several infectious disease outbreaks since SARS in 2003, including H1N1, Zika, and most recently Monkeypox. Many lessons have been drawn from these past experiences to improve our readiness for the next outbreak. Over the years, we have strengthened our epidemiological surveillance and containment capabilities, and held regular emergency preparedness exercises to keep ourselves operationally ready. The setting up of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) has enhanced our infrastructure and capabilities to manage a disease outbreak in Singapore.
When COVID-19 emerged, we alerted all our healthcare institutions and put in place precautionary measures according to our response plans. Even before Singapore had its first confirmed case, we anticipated that we would need a whole-of-Government effort to respond effectively to this threat and we set up the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on 22 Jan 2020 to coordinate our responses and measures. Since then, the Taskforce has put in place in place a whole range of measures from border controls to extra precautions within Singapore. We will continue to monitor the situation and take more measures when necessary.
We recognise that an important part of our system of defence is the role that every individual plays, by exercising social responsibility, practising good personal hygiene, and supporting our fellow citizens, especially our healthcare workers on the frontline. We must not let our fears overwhelm us and cause us to behave irrationally, selfishly or irresponsibly. Instead, let us support and look out for one another, so that we can all get through this together and emerge stronger.
It is also important not to spread unverified information or false news which can cause panic and fear. The Government has and will continue to push timely information through various platforms including broadcast media, display panels in HDB estates, websites and social media, so that Singaporeans can easily refer to these authoritative sources for news, health advisories and the latest updates.
The Government has also taken proactive steps to secure essential supplies, including masks. In peacetime, we had built up a stockpile of surgical and N95 masks. As we draw down on this stockpile, we will also need to replenish it with new supplies. In recent weeks, some places like Taiwan, Thailand and India have banned or tightened regulations on the export of masks. We are therefore strengthening the resilience of our supply chain, including looking for new sources, and developing local manufacturing capabilities.
We will continue to do everything we can, to keep Singaporeans safe, and to overcome this challenging situation together.
So the good MP has asked the Government if we’re looking into producing our own masks and other medical protective gears. And the Government has sorta said yes. The mainstream media has also reported on this.
But what is curious is how Mdm Ho Ching had already hinted at Singapore seeking to set up our own production facility for masks on 7th Feb 2020, earlier than MND’s written reply on 18th Feb.
Here, this is the Facebook post where she let the cat out of the bag.
In this Facebook post, she spoke about how there is a “global shortage of surgical masks, as well as a shortage of materials to make surgical masks” and appealed to all that we need to “prioritise masks and other personal protection equipment (PPE) for medical workforce.”
She also called for everyone to “uplift our personal and public hygiene habits.”
She shared that China produces half the world’s output of surgical masks and how production actually came to a standstill during the lunar new year holidays as workers went back to their hometowns. So while we have Chinese factories idling over the CNY period, we also saw countries like Taiwan, Vietnam and Thailand starting to control or ban the export of surgical masks, hand sanitisers and/or mask filter materials.
Even if in Singapore where we have stockpile, “these are not likely to be enough if the Wuhan nCoV continues to spread to thousands more and over many months.”
Hidden amongst the 161 comments were a handful from Mdm Ho Ching.
Here’s one where she replied someone who suggested that we convert some factories here to manufacture masks. Mdm Ho had said that she knows of at least one team running around frantically too look for production equipment and raw materials.
Here’s another one where she was asked about a certain N95 mask designed by ST Engineering but manufactured in Taiwan,
In her reply, Mdm Ho Ching shared that ST Engineering produces this one type of Air+ N95 masks in Taiwan and how they’re now stuck as Taiwan has banned all exports of all types of masks. According to her, ST Engineering has been trying to relocate two of the production lines back to Singapore, and they’re now working on setting up the factory space.
Filter materials are super in demand now. Yes, resulting in some unscrupulous manufacturers substituting the filter materials with something far inferior and doesn’t do the filtering job. The micro-filter is fitted between the two layers in the three-ply surgical masks?.
But if all goes well, we should be able to see the two production lines up and running in Singapore in March.
On the side, she said the sh*t word, LOL!
And then there’s also this comment,
And she gave a rather interesting reply, and I like how she seems to have all this information at her fingertips. But did she not finish her sentence here, hehe?
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this appeal from Mdm Ho in her main post,
“We should try to prioritise mask stockpile for our hospital workers, who are at the frontline of this fight.
Meanwhile, please remember that the general public doesn’t need to put on masks as we go about out daily business – we should put on masks when we are not well, like the way the Japanese do. This is to prevent us from spreading germs, bugs, pathogens or whatever, to others.
Hospital workers face all sorts of patients at work through their entire workday, over every workday. What we don’t see is that they maintain a high standard of hand hygiene and personal hygiene as the #1 precaution.”