By Amir Hussain and Wong Casandra
SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Wednesday (12 February) confirmed three new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, bringing the total number of cases here to 50.
The trio are all Singaporean men with no recent travel history to China. Two worked at the same church, Grace Assembly of God, at both its Tanglin and Bukit Batok branches, while another worked at DBS Asia Central at Marina Bay Financial Centre.
This brings the total number of local transmissions of the virus to 28, more than half of the tally. In all, eight have no established links to any previous cases or travel history to mainland China.
Meanwhile, six cases have been discharged, bringing the total to 15. Of the 35 currently warded in hospital, eight are in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
Speaking at a press conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said, “While most infected patients will recover, some may become seriously ill and a small number may succumb to the infection ultimately. We have to be prepared for the worst.”
Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force handling the issue, also thanked healthcare workers and appealed to Singaporeans not to shun nurses and doctors.
Reassuring the medical community, including general practitioners (GP) and specialists in the private sector, Gan said the government has put aside one million face masks for them.
At the press conference, MOH’s director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak also advised members of the public not to visit different GP clinics but return to the same one they had initially visited.
One of the new cases announced on Wednesday had visited four different clinics over nine days.
With the new cases, there are now at least five identified clusters for locally transmitted infections. The clusters are associated with health products shop Yong Thai Hang along Cavan Road, The Life Church and Missions Singapore in Paya Lebar, a business meeting at the Grand Hyatt hotel, a worksite along Seletar Aerospace Heights as well as Grace Assembly of God church.
Meanwhile, as of noon on Wednesday, 638 of the suspect cases have tested negative for the virus while results for the remaining 125 cases are pending.
The MOH has also identified 1,090 close contacts as of noon. Of the 984 who are still in Singapore, 961 are quarantined or isolated while efforts are underway to contact the remaining 23 close contacts.
Case 48: Church worker visited four different GPs
The 34-year-old man was in Malaysia on 26 January.
He first had symptoms on 1 February, and went to four different GP clinics on 2 February, 4 February, 7 February, Sunday and Monday.
The man went to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) on Monday and is warded there. He tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.
Before he was hospitalised, he visited Plaza Singapura, Star Vista and Fusionopolis. He also went to work at Grace Assembly of God along Tanglin Road and Bukit Batok West Avenue 4. He stays along Bukit Batok Street 25.
Case 49: Church worker initially discharged from NUH
The 46-year-old man first had symptoms on 3 February and went to a GP clinic on 8 February before going to the emergency department at the National University Hospital (NUH) the same day.
He was discharged from the hospital the same day before being admitted to NUH on Monday and remains in an isolation ward there. He tested positive for the virus on Tuesday.
Before he was hospitalised, the man went to work at Grace Assembly of God along Tanglin Road and Bukit Batok West Avenue 4. He stays along Toh Guan Road.
Case 50: DBS employee at MBFC
The 62-year-old man is warded at NCID.
Before he was hospitalised, he went to work at DBS Asia Central at Marina Bay Financial Centre.
He tested positive for the virus on Wednesday morning.
MOH has started epidemiological investigations and contract tracing to identify close contacts for the case.
Risk of infection from transient contact low
The MOH has said that the risk of infection from transient contact, such as on public transport or in public places, is assessed to be low for the general public.
The ministry reiterated its advice for Singaporeans to defer all travel to Hubei province, home to Wuhan where the virus originated, and all non-essential travel to mainland China.
By territory, Singapore has the second highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases after mainland China, with 50 cases. The global tally includes cruise ship Diamond Princess, moored off Japan, which has 175 cases.
As of Wednesday, the death toll in mainland China has reached 1,113, while more than 44,600 people have now been infected by the coronavirus.
Given the heightened risk, authorities last Friday raised Singapore’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert level from yellow to orange amid the increase in confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
It also announced a series of measures to be taken, including the suspension of inter-school and external activities for schools until the end of the March school holidays and advising event organisers to cancel or defer non-essential large-scale events.
Death toll surpasses SARS epidemic
The novel strain belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak and also started in China.
It likely originated from Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood Market, where live animals or products – such as foxes, wolf puppies, giant salamanders, snakes, porcupines, and camel meat – are sold.
Declared a global emergency by the World Health Organisation (WHO), COVID-19 has spread to 27 territories beyond mainland China.
The WHO also said that cases of COVID-19 being transmitted by people who have never travelled to China could be the “tip of the iceberg”.
China's death toll from the epidemic has surpassed the total fatalities globally from the SARS outbreak. On Saturday, the US embassy confirmed that a US citizen died that day in Wuhan.
Two territories, Hong Kong and the Philippines, have each reported the death of a patient from the virus.
Patients suffering from the new strain may exhibit fever and symptoms of lower respiratory illness – such as coughing or difficulty in breathing – as well as pneumonia-like symptoms like a runny nose, sore throat, and headache.
However, some who have died from it have not displayed symptoms of fever, according to details released by China’s National Health Commission, potentially complicating global efforts to check for infected travellers as they arrive at airports and other travel hubs.
This means that temperature screening, the most common measure being used at transport links and airports to check travellers, may not identify some infected people.
Chinese authorities, meanwhile, dismissed two senior health officials from Hubei province where some 56 million people, including in its capital Wuhan, have been under lockdown since late last month.
They also tightened restrictions in the city, forbidding people with fever from visiting hospitals outside of their home districts and sealing off residential compounds.
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