MOH advisory against wearing masks if you are not sick is misplaced

May 23, 2020 | 🚀 Fathership

Singapore's Ministry of Health has advised the general public to refrain from wearing masks if they are not unwell but it failed to take into account the subtlety of how the virus spreads and the general etiquettes of sick people in public.

Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, told The New Paper on Wednesday that surgical masks should be used by people who are ill, and is not necessary for those who are healthy.

"The surgical masks can prevent the passing of virus from a wearer, but when it comes to protecting (a healthy wearer), the masks won't protect from viruses."

"In fact, wearing masks can give people a false sense of security and cause them to be less aware or careful of their surroundings, and we don't want people to be doing that."

Coronavirus not directly airborne?

Dr Chia said: "Viruses are passed most commonly through contact, such as when someone touches a contaminated door handle and then touches their face. The transmission is often not directly airborne."

We now know coronavirus can spread from person to person by touching and contact. We don’t know how much transmission is person to person, but we have some clues.

Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses, so they can be found in the nose, throat and lungs. It spreads through close contact with someone who is infected, usually by coughing or sneezing.

The airborne droplets produced by coughing and sneezing could then find its way to surrounding individuals.

Not everyone covers their mouth when they cough

Many people cough or sneeze in public with their mouths wide open, making no attempt whatsoever to cover their mouths or turn away from passers-by.

Such uncovered, open-mouth coughing or sneezing in public places such as MRT trains, taxi stands, coffee shops, shopping malls or supermarkets can spread infectious respiratory diseases, especially in a densely-packed Singapore.

Therefore, it is more prudent to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to avoiding such infections.

A person without coronavirus symptoms may still be able to spread it

MOH's Director of Medical Services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said: "for the general public who are not having any symptoms at all and they are very well, there is no requirement to wear a mask."


In humans, the incubation period - during which a person has the disease, but no symptoms yet - ranges from between two and 14 days, officials believe.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported yesterday that people showing no symptoms appear to be able to spread coronavirus.

Without symptoms, a person may not know they have the infection, but still be able to spread it. As such, wearing a mask even if you are well is an unfortunate reality that everyone has to accept.