Fifth Wuhan case confirmed as measures are ramped up
Students who were in China recently must take 14 days' leave of absence, screening expanded to all flights
A 56-year-old woman was yesterday confirmed as the fifth person from Wuhan in China to test positive in Singapore for a deadly mysterious virus.
The Chinese national arrived here with her family on Jan 18 and developed symptoms last Friday while staying at their home in Ceylon Road.
She was taken in an ambulance to Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Sunday, where she was classified as a suspect case and isolated at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).
Subsequent test results confirmed her Wuhan coronavirus infection at 2pm yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement last night.
She has no known links to the other four confirmed imported cases and is currently warded in stable condition in an isolation room at NCID.
MOH has initiated contact tracing to identify individuals who had close contact with her.
The confirmation of her case came just hours after three new precautionary measures to counter the Wuhan virus were announced by the multi-ministry task force headed by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Among them, students and staff of public educational institutes who returned from China in the last two weeks must take 14 days' leave of absence.
This mandatory leave also applies to workers and users in public childcare and eldercare facilities who have returned from China recently.
Also, Singaporeans are now strongly encouraged to avoid all travel to Hubei province and non-essential travel to China.
Hubei's capital of Wuhan is the epicentre of the Sars-like 2019-nCoV virus outbreak.
Temperature screening will also be expanded from tomorrow to all incoming flights.
Previously, screening covered only travellers on flights from China.
Additional inspections will be made on flights from China, such as looking for signs of illness like cough or runny nose in case some unwell passengers do not have a fever.
The leave of absence, which covers Ministry of Education (MOE) institutes from kindergartens to junior colleges, will affect 892 students and staff who visited China recently, including five who were in Hubei province.
About 820 students will be affected, which works out to an average of two to three students in each school.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who was at the briefing with several fourth-generation ministers, said: "In the next few days, we enter a sensitive period and we want to minimise the risk of more imported cases."
Stressing that the leave of absence will not be an "extended holiday", he said affected students will take part in home-based learning to "catch up on their lessons".
Schools will start taking daily temperatures from tomorrow and will monitor students and staff for flu-like symptoms.
Mr Ong said the six autonomous universities have agreed to implement similar measures. Three university hostels have been designated as government quarantine facilities.
MOE will contact other private institutions, such as international schools, to introduce similar precautions.
The ministry also reminded parents yesterday to seek immediate medical attention for their children if they are unwell, and ensure they recover fully before returning to school for classes.
Responding to some parents, Mr Ong said in a Facebook post yesterday it was not necessary to close schools as there is no community spread of the virus.
There have been 81 deaths and more than 2,700 confirmed cases in China.
The coronavirus has also spread to several countries, including Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Australia, France, Canada and the US.
Apart from the five confirmed cases - all Chinese nationals from Wuhan - there are 57 suspect cases, including healthcare workers.
Another 62 suspect cases tested negative for the virus.
The first four patients had 115 close contacts here: 29 have left the country, 75 have been quarantined and isolated, and the authorities are still trying to contact 11 people.
Mr Gan said Singapore could expect to see more cases because of its high volume of international travel.
"The Government will spare no effort to keep Singaporeans safe," he said. "Our doctors and healthcare workers are also on high alert for suspect cases. The public hospitals are geared up to handle the situation and have put in place precautionary measures to screen and manage suspect cases."
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said it was important that Singaporeans do not overreact and become xenophobic.
"We must be proactive and rational in our response, and base our actions on the available evidence and data," he said.