“Do not wear a mask if you are well” read a warning plastered across the front of Singapore’s main newspaper on Friday, as authorities around the world sought to calm panic buying of masks seen as a guard against the fast-spreading coronavirus, Reuters informs.
In neighboring Malaysia, the government urged people to always have masks and hand sanitizers ready, similar to advice by authorities in Thailand and Vietnam.
Conflicting messages have sowed confusion over how to protect against an epidemic that has claimed over 200 lives in China and spread to over 20 countries, with some experts saying wrong handling of masks could even increase infection risk.
“Wearing a mask only when u feel unwell? Then why do u need soldiers when there isn’t war? It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Facebook user Kenny Chan Wai Kong posted in Singapore, where authorities have announced plans to give four masks to every household as retailers’ stocks run dry across the island.
In parts of Asia, wearing face masks is common when people are sick or to counter urban pollution.
Official guidance from the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention makes no mention of wearing a face mask as a preventative measure against the virus – but their websites do not specifically advise against them.
Australia and Taiwan have said healthy people don’t need masks, but Australia has released 1 million masks from the national medical stockpile, and masks are widely worn in Taiwan’s capital Taipei where the government has imposed purchase limits and an export ban on masks.
The Taiwan Railway Administration said on Friday that if the virus continues to spread it will refuse to carry passengers not wearing masks.