Singapore can now produce high-quality mask filters: Chan Chun Sing
Republic will stockpile these filters and distribute them if pandemic worsens
Singapore is now able to produce its own high-quality mask filters, at a rate such that everyone here can have two filters each week, should the Covid-19 pandemic worsen and global stocks once again run low.
The country will therefore have a sustainable supply on hand in the event the crisis requires Singaporeans to switch to using higher-grade, surgical-quality masks, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.
As these filters are designed to be used with reusable masks, Singapore will also be less reliant on the raw materials required for manufacturing traditional surgical masks, he noted.
Explaining the significance of this development, Mr Chan recounted how Singapore faced a "critical vulnerability" in its supply chain when it began producing surgical masks last year.
It could not get its hands on enough of a material called melt-blown polypropylene, which is used in the filtration layer of a standard surgical mask.
However, ST Engineering has now acquired the machines and know-how to produce such filters, which stand up well against similar products available globally, Mr Chan said.
"They are much lighter, much more breathable, and have much higher filtration capabilities - and yet, we are able to produce them at a price-competitive range," he added.
The minister was speaking to reporters after a closed-door visit to ST Engineering yesterday morning.
Singapore started drawing up plans to mass-produce surgical masks last year amid a shortage of face masks worldwide in the initial months of the pandemic, with the new filter-production machines arriving in the second half of the year.
"At first, we thought we might buy the machine and be able to do this," Mr Chan said.
"But we quickly realised we need to have deep knowledge of the science behind how the filter works in order for us to produce the right composition, to get to the final material that we want."
The new filter inserts, made of melt-blown polypropylene, are designed to be slipped into a reusable mask and can last three days on average.
He added that the new filter inserts will not be distributed to Singaporeans yet as the reusable masks that have been given out provide adequate protection for the country's current needs.
Singapore has not reached the point where it has to give out the new filters, he said, adding: "We hope we will never have to reach that point."
Instead, the country will build up its stockpile of these filters for future needs.
Singapore applies the same thought process to every product that is critical for the country's needs, he said.