Singapore

Likely for Wuhan virus to come to Singapore

As death toll doubles to 6 and cases mount, WHO will decide today if outbreak is a global health emergency

It is likely a matter of time before the Wuhan virus spreads to Singapore because of the country's status as a major travel hub, Dr Chia Shi-Lu said yesterday.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health added that while Singaporeans should remain vigilant, they need not be alarmed.

He told The New Paper: "I would say it is only a question of time, given that Singapore is a very open country and is seen as a travel hub... the possibility is very high."

However, Singapore has protocols in place to deal with such situations so people should remain calm, added the MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC.

"We have dealt with diseases such as Zika and Sars in Singapore before," Dr Chia said.

We are well prepared and have the appropriate measures in place. This is nothing new, only the disease is new."

He said a potential next step would be to issue an advisory to Singapore residents to avoid unnecessary travel to Wuhan in China's Hubei province.

"It's a pathogen that we don't know much about, so it is better to be prudent."

As three more deaths linked to the mysterious Sars-like virus were reported in Wuhan yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would hold a meeting in Geneva today to determine if the outbreak is a global public health emergency.

The death toll in Wuhan now stands at six. Fifteen medical workers have also been infected, with one critically ill.

Almost 300 people have fallen ill with pneumonia from the virus that is believed to have originated from Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market.

Suspected cases have since been reported in other cities in China and several countries, including Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Philippines.

Seven suspected cases have been reported in Singapore, with the latest case - a 44-year-old woman with pneumonia after travelling to Wuhan - cleared after testing negative for the virus.

Monday's confirmation of the virus mutating and spreading from human to human has heightened fears of widespread infections as China gears up for the Chinese New Year travel crunch from tomorrow.

PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES

Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement yesterday that additional precautionary measures will be put in place following the confirmation of human transmission.

The definition of suspected cases - who should be quarantined - has been widened to include those with acute respiratory infection and who had been to any hospital in China within two weeks of symptoms surfacing.

Pneumonia patients who had been to China two weeks before showing symptoms will also be quarantined. Previously, only those with fever and pneumonia who had travelled to Wuhan within two weeks before falling sick were isolated.

MOH will also conduct temperature screening at Changi Airport of all travellers from China, and issue health advisory notices to travellers arriving from China from today.

Health advisory posters will be distributed at land and sea checkpoints.

All public hospital emergency departments are also in "outbreak response mode".

"We cannot rule out the possibility that the new virus will reach Singapore," Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, told The Straits Times yesterday.

Meanwhile, Dr Zhong Nanshan, a renowned scientist at China's National Health Commission who confirmed the human-to-human transmission on Monday, believes the Wuhan virus will not evolve into a massive outbreak similar in scale to the Sars outbreak 17 years ago.

"We identified the new coronavirus just two weeks after the outbreak was reported, and we have very good virus monitoring and quarantine measures," said Dr Zhong, who discovered the Sars coronavirus in 2003.

Global stock markets were in jitters yesterday as fears rose of a repeat of the economic devastation during the Sars epidemic.

Seven clinics contacted by TNP yesterday said more people have been asking about taking precautions against the virus.

One clinic said it has ordered 60 more vials of flu vaccinations on top of the 40 they have in stock.

A staff member in the Bedok branch of Shenton Family Medical Clinic said this could be due to the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations, not solely on the Wuhan virus scare.

There is currently no vaccine for the Wuhan virus.

Travel agencies said there have been fewer bookings to China, but it is unclear if this was because of the virus.

Local airline Scoot, which has daily flights to Wuhan, said yesterday that disinfectants, hand sanitisers, and surgical masks will be available on all flights to China, and it will carry out a disinfection protocol for aircraft where there have been suspected cases reported.

Professor Paul Tambyah, a senior consultant in infectious diseases at National University Hospital, told TNP that people can take preventive measures such as practising good hygiene.

"Ensure good hand hygiene, stay away from live animal markets and seek medical attention if you are feeling unwell or have a flu for more than three days," he said.

MEDICAL & HEALTH