Wuhan coronavirus outbreak: 1st case confirmed in Singapore

Officials monitor thermal scanners as passengers walk past upon arrival of a flight from Hangzhou, China at Changi Airport on 22 January, 2020. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (23 January) confirmed Singapore’s first case of a new deadly coronavirus and declared another case “preliminary positive”.

The announcement comes as authorities around the world stepped up measures to curb the outbreak originating from the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has left 17 dead and afflicted over 630.

During a briefing only open to mainstream media, the MOH said the patient is a 66-year-old Chinese man who arrived in Singapore from Guangzhou via China Southern flight CZ351 on Monday.

The Wuhan resident revealed that he developed a sore throat during the flight but did not have a fever.

He developed a fever and cough, symptoms of the virus, on Tuesday. The man visited the Singapore General Hospital (SGH)’s emergency department on Wednesday and was immediately isolated.

The ministry was notified about the case at about 10pm on the same day, and his test results were confirmed for the coronavirus at 6pm on Thursday, hours before the briefing.

The man, whose condition is stable, is currently warded in an isolation room at the SGH.

Prior to his admission into the hospital, the man stayed at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa in Sentosa and indicated that he had kept to the vicinity of the hotel.

The ministry said it has initiated contact tracing and have so far been identified nine close contacts of the case, who are his travelling companions.

One of them, his 37-year-old son, has also been warded as a suspect case. The eight other contacts have left Singapore and the ministry has informed the authorities of the destination country.

The MOH said the health status of all close contacts will be monitored closely and they will be quarantined for 14 days from their last exposure to the patient.

“Those who develop symptoms will be brought to hospital in a dedicated ambulance for further assessment. In addition, all other identified contacts who have a low risk of being infected will be under active surveillance, and will be contacted daily to monitor their health status,” the ministry added.

1st preliminary positive case, 28 suspect cases

Separately, a 53-year-old Chinese woman, who arrived from Wuhan, has been tested preliminary positive for the strain. The ministry said it was notified of the patient, who is not related to the confirmed case, on Thursday.

Her results from a confirmatory test are pending and her condition is stable.

The ministry also announced that there have been a total of 28 suspect cases so far, up from a total count of 10 as of 4pm on Wednesday over the past two weeks. The ages of the 28 cases range from one to 78 years old. 

Of these, seven have been previously confirmed by the MOH to be tested negative. 

The ministry reiterated on Thursday that more suspected cases are expected to emerge given the high volume of international travel to Singapore.

A multi-ministry taskforce co-chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, announced on Wednesday, will step up Singapore’s overall preventive measures, it added.

Among the measures is the expansion of the country’s border controls to include land and sea checkpoints.

The ministry has also expanded the travel advisory to recommend that Singaporeans avoid travel to the whole of Hubei province, home to Wuhan, instead of just the city.

Separately, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said on Thursday it has instituted travel declarations for all students and staff and added that it will take the necessary precautions for the planning of student trips.

“There are no student trips to Hubei province planned currently. As for other parts of China, there are none for the month of February,” the ministry said.

“The MOE is working closely with the MOH, and will monitor the situation and advise schools, the polytechnics and ITE to postpone trips in March and later, if necessary.”

New deadly strain

The new deadly 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.

The city has since been placed on an unprecedented lockdown on Thursday, along with two others, Huanggang and Ezhou, in Hubei province.

Chinese authorities confirmed that the virus is transmissible between humans and said it is adapting and mutating. A total of 639 people in China have been infected by the strain, including 444 cases in Hubei province alone.

At least 15 cases have been confirmed outside of mainland China, including in Singapore, the US, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and Vietnam.

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, five of the 17 people who 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.

A health pamphlet given to travellers upon their arrival of a flight from Hangzhou, China at Changi Airport on 22 January, 2020. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Health precautions

The MOH has urged members of the public to monitor their health closely for two weeks upon their return to Singapore and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell.

Those who develop fever or exhibit symptoms such as cough and runny nose should wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of their visit.

The ministry also advised travellers and members of the public to adopt the following precautions at all times:

  • Avoid contact with live animals including poultry and birds, and consumption of raw and undercooked meats.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness.

  • Observe good personal hygiene.

  • Practise frequent hand washing with soap (e.g. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing).

  • Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose.

  • Cover your mouth with a tissue paper when coughing or sneezing, and dispose the soiled tissue paper in the rubbish bin immediately.

  • Seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell and inform your doctor about your travel history.

(CREDIT: Yahoo News Singapore)

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