SINGAPORE — Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday (14 February) pleaded with the public to stop rumours of a plan to raise the disease outbreak response level in Singapore to “red” amid the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
The Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level has been at “orange” since it was raised a week ago.
“Please help me stop the rumours, it is this difficult enough, challenging enough for us to try to stop the spread of the virus. We don't really want to have to spend effort in stopping the spread of rumours,” said Gan during a multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 media conference on Friday.
“I want to say categorically that we have no plans to go to Dorscon red. So please help me stop these rumours going forward, so that we can focus our efforts in dealing with our patients, trying to support them,” said Gan, who is the co-chair of the taskforce.
Under the “orange” level of the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon), a disease is considered to be severe and spreads easily from person to person, but the disease has not spread widely in Singapore and is contained. During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003, the Republic was at a similar alert level.
Under Dorscon, level “red” indicates a disease is severe and spreading widely, causing a significant number of deaths and major disruption to daily life.
How infectious is COVID-19?
At the conference, Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the taskforce and Minister for National Development, also shared the findings of Singapore’s medical researchers about COVID-19.
Researchers at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) had confirmed that the transmission mechanism of COVID-19 is closer to H1N1 virus or influenza, than to SARS, Wong said. They projected that the coronavirus can spread at a much faster rate than SARS, Wong said.
“They have found that COVID-19 is infectious when the symptoms are mild. And because of this transmission mechanism, it is also the case that COVID-19, like influenza, can spread quite quickly. With our mild symptoms, we sometimes let our guard down – we continue going out even though we don’t really feel well, and that’s how the virus transmits,” he added.
COVID-19 is “less severe” even though it is more infectious than SARS, said Wong, noting that the fatality rate of the coronavirus cases in China was lower than for SARS.
Wong cited a study done by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of 17,000 COVID-19 cases, which found that 82 per cent of the patients have mild symptoms, 15 per cent have severe symptoms, and three per cent have critical symptoms.
Another Harvard study looking at recent airline travel concluded that the virus may “have spread undetected to various countries” in Southeast Asia, Wong pointed out.
In response to a question, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the Ministry of Health’s director of medical services, said primary care clinics in Singapore sees about 30,000 patients with respiratory symptoms, including cough, running nose, and sore throat, every day. Of these cases, some 200 patients are diagnosed with pneumonia.
At the conference, the authorities announced nine new cases of COVID-19 in Singapore – the highest in a single day to date -, bringing the tally to 67 cases.
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