Wuhan virus: Critical to assess impact of steps by China in next few weeks - top MOH official

·Senior Editor
·4-min read

SINGAPORE — While China has taken “very extensive measures” to contain the spread of the Wuhan virus, their effectiveness will be determined by what happens in the next few weeks, said Singapore’s chief health scientist on Tuesday (4 February).

Addressing reporters at the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), Prof Tan Chorh Chuan from the Ministry of Health (MOH) was asked about his confidence in Singapore’s ability to halt local transmission of the virus.

“I think what will be really important is how the very extensive measures that have been taken in China to contain the infection there, how they will pan out in the next few weeks,” said Prof Tan. “Because if they start to show effect, then we ought to see a tailing off of cases from there, and then hopefully the situation might take a turn for the better.”

He added that the authorities hope to contain the situation in Singapore. “We have a small cluster, we should ring fence it.”

Prof Tan’s comments came as the MOH confirmed six additional cases of the Wuhan virus, four of whom are the country’s first confirmed cases of local transmission. This brings the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 24.

There are another 20 suspected cases, pending test results.

As of Tuesday, 12pm, MOH has identified 311 close contacts. Of the 239 who are still in Singapore, 234 are being quarantined or isolated. Efforts are ongoing to contact the remaining five close contacts.

No widespread community transmission

Earlier, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed that there is currently only limited, not widespread community transmission of the disease in Singapore.

“The main difference is that for this particular cluster, we are able to identify all the contacts that are involved, including the source of the infection. We were able to identify the specific course of the transmission…and if we are able to ring fence this particular cluster, then we will be able to control the infection’s spread.”

Gan warned that widespread community transmission was still possible. If so, it would be necessary to introduce measures to limit large gatherings and human to human interaction.

Prof Tan noted that the task of contact tracing, and hence containing the spread of the virus, has been made much easier. “When the first case appeared in Singapore, we already had a diagnostic kit. (So we are able to) rapidly scale up the numbers, (and) diagnose the cases early.”

It typically takes between two and four hours to diagnose the virus in a patient, using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. In some cases where results need to be verified, it can take up to 24 hours.

He added, “This is quite different from the situation in SARS because…for the first five weeks or so, we did not have any diagnostic kits, and that made the whole containment effort much more difficult, because it’s very hard to know which patient infected which patient.”

Prof Tan reiterated MOH’s message that hand washing offers more protection than wearing a face mask, and that only individuals who are feeling unwell should wear one.

Precautionary measures for schools

Separately, the Ministry of Education (MOE) and the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) have announced additional precautionary measures to minimise the congregation of students in large numbers, starting Wednesday.

In primary and secondary schools, Special Education (SPED) schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute, large group and communal activities such as assemblies, camps and mass celebrations will be suspended. Recess times will be staggered, but CCAs and after-school programmes may continue in smaller groups.

The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) will also step up precautionary measures in all preschools as follows:

  • Large group and communal activities such as assemblies, excursions, fieldtrips and mass celebrations will be suspended.

  • Health checks and temperature screening for all children, staff and visitors will continue. The frequency of temperature taking for children and staff will be increased.

These measures will also apply to specific social services for vulnerable groups, such as residential facilities and disability day activity centres.

In a joint statement, the ministries said, “These additional measures will allow MOE and MSF to mitigate the potential risks posed when students gather in large numbers, while enabling schools and preschools to continue with a majority of their usual learning and activities. Schools and preschools will closely monitor the health of students and staff, and advise them to see a doctor immediately if they are sick.”

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