Special Report

Shutdown: The Coronavirus

24-hour vending machines distribute masks to help Singapore contain the spread of COVID-19

Residents enter the line to collect their reusable masks after going through temperature screening and scanning QR codes for contact tracing. May 29, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

In Singapore, the government is using 24-hour vending machines to distribute improved, reusable and washable masks to the public during the pandemic This is the second distribution of reusable masks and the first to be available using vending machines. 

 Since January, Singapore’s government has conducted three rounds of mask distribution for its residents. During the first 10-day collection period in February, each household could collect up to four disposable surgical masks. 

On April 3, the country’s government reversed its policy discouraging the use of masks after seeing a surge of community cases and a change in WHO guidelines. Qualms over surgical mask shortage after the announcement was quickly dismissed by a new round of mask distribution. This time, reusable and washable. 

This third round of mask collection was announced three weeks before collection started, when the country’s government announced plans for gradual reopening in May. The new reusable masks “are made of at least three layers of material, with a filtration efficiency of at least 95%, even after 30 washes,” according to the government’s website. 

“All the reusable masks, although is reusable, is not reusable for eternity,” trade and industry minister Chan Chun Sing said during a video interview on May 6. The durability of the earlier version of government distributed reusable masks was not mentioned in April. 

Aside from manual collection booths manned by government organized volunteers and staff, 24-hour vending machines are also installed for collection. Residents in Singapore, including foreign workers and students, can collect one reusable mask each using local identification.  

In more densely-populated communities, volunteers and staff are deployed near vending machines to assist residents. Residents had to first go through temperature screening and contact tracing before collecting their masks either manually or from vending machines. 

Meanwhile, reusable and washable masks are also sold in Singapore’s supermarkets. Razer, a US tech firm, also gave out surgical masks to adult users of Razer Pay using 20 vending machines set up across the island.

A row of mask distribution machines at Tampines Hub, Singapore. May 29, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

Data collection and exchange policy disclaimers before a row of machines. May 29, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

Two of the machines lie within a newly-built public housing complex, next to a temporary location of a community club. Bilingual signs directing residents to the machines are pasted on the ground level of several flats in the complex. May 28, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

Some Singaporeans or permanent residents collecting masks on behalf of their foreign family members, younger children and domestic helpers face difficulties at the machine. They turned to manual collection after collecting their own masks. May 28, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

A woman selects her mask from the mask distribution machine. May 28, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

A woman scans her IC (national identity card) for collection. May 28, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

A sheltered set-up of machines outside a community club in Simei, Singapore. 29 May, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

A staff member from the community club assists a resident with mask collection. 29 May, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

A staff member from the community club assists a resident with mask collection. 29 May, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu

The machine display and instructions attached to the machine at Bedok, Singapore. 28 May, 2020. Photo by Yifan Yu





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