Wuhan virus revives post-SARS worries in Singapore
UNTV News • January 23, 2020 • 358
By Tom Benner
Singapore – After a mysterious virus originating from China was brought to Singapore by an unassuming traveler from Hong Kong in 2003, the island-nation and its ethnic Chinese majority population were hit hard.
The threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused widespread public panic, prompting school closures and inflicting economic damage to business and tourism. People bought face masks or remained indoors. Some 238 people were infected and 33 killed in Singapore. All told, SARS killed nearly 800 people worldwide during the 2002/03 outbreak.
Those memories remain fresh as a new SARS-like coronavirus originates from the city of Wuhan, China – just a 4-and-a-half-hour flight from Singapore, with direct daily flights between the two cities – and has spread to other Chinese cities and abroad.
With Singapore’s Changi Airport one of the world’s busiest for international traffic, and hundreds of millions preparing to travel this weekend throughout the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is on high-alert for the already deadly the Wuhan virus. Many Singaporeans have family ties in mainland China, and the coming weekend marks peak travel time – the beginning of the Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, with its traditional family reunions.
Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier Scoot on Thursday canceled its daily flight to Wuhan.
Singaporean health authorities this week began screening all inbound passengers arriving from China to spot and contain the disease, and are issuing health advisory notices. Earlier in the outbreak, only travelers from Wuhan were screened, and advisory notices were not issued.
In addition, Singapore’s Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases are distributing clinical guidance about the disease to emergency room and infectious diseases physicians, as well as to hospital laboratories.
Health experts say Singapore is vulnerable to the Wuhan virus but feel a situation like SARS in 2003 is unlikely to reoccur in Singapore now.
“The healthcare system and hospitals are far better prepared today, with improved surveillance systems, medication and equipment (including masks) stockpiles, and a state of the art 330-bed facility in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases that was built to precisely avoid a repeat of the SARS debacle,” said Hsu Li Yang, head of the Infectious Diseases Programme at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
“A whole of government approach to crisis management has also been developed post-SARS,” he added.
Singapore’s senior minister of State for Health and Transport, Lam Pin Min, said in a Facebook post that Singapore is concerned about the increase in cases of novel coronavirus pneumonia just as increased travel is expected during the festive season.
Lam urged the public to remain vigilant and adopt hygienic practices such as avoiding contact with live animals including poultry and birds and consumption of raw and undercooked meats; and avoiding close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness.
Ethnic Chinese make up the majority of Singapore’s 5.7 million population, at 76 percent, many with family ties to mainland China, and almost a fifth of new immigrants are from the mainland, according to the UN.
The SARS epidemic in 2003 drastically hurt air travel between China and Singapore at that time, aviation experts say, but air travel between the two countries has since grown at a rapid pace, along with more mainland Chinese moving to Singapore.
Air traffic between the two countries in the last decade registered an average annual growth rate of more than 8 percent, said Simin Ngai, dashboard editor for Asia at travel industry analyst Cirium. EFE-EPA
MANILA, Philippines – A Filipino worker in Hong Kong who was placed under observation for contracting novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is expected to be released within the week after testing negative of the virus, the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong said Tuesday.
In a Facebook post, the consulate said the infection of the Filipino migrant worker is the first reported case involving a household worker in Hong Kong.
Citing a report from the Hong Kong Health Department, the Consulate two more Filipinos were released Tuesday after completing their 14-day mandatory quarantine.
There were eight Filipinos placed on quarantine for possible infection of COVID-19. Seven have so far been released.
The consulate said the remaining Filipino undergoing quarantine is healthy and asymptomatic, and will possibly be released on Friday, February 28.
As of February 24, Hong Kong has 81 confirmed coronavirus cases with two fatalities as reported by China’s National Health Commission.
The commission also said that the death toll in mainland China has reached 2,663 with confirmed infections of 77,658.
Japan confirmed ten new cases of novel coronavirus infection on Monday, driving the number of infected patients up to 850.
Of the ten infected, four were in Hokkaido and one of them a teacher. Thus the local authorities decided to suspend classes of the school where the teacher works from Tuesday to March 6.
The total confirmed cases in Tokyo Prefecture reached 32, including three new confirmed cases on Monday.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare confirmed on Monday that a staff member of the Ministry and a quarantine officer who worked at the cruise ship got infected.
So far, six civil servants, two quarantine officers, three staff members of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and a staffer of the Cabinet Secretariat, who worked on Diamond Princess cruise ship have been infected with the disease.
Japanese experts on Monday issued a statement saying the coming one to two weeks will be a critical time for the disease to spread rapidly or subside.
The statement also says confirmed cases without identified infection sources have emerged in several places, implying that the epidemic may speed up spreading and asks the people to avoid gathering. (CCTV via Reuters Connect)
In his first visit to Daegu since the outbreak began, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday (February 25) that the government will “win the fight” against the coronavirus as the number of cases in the country rose to 893.
About 68 percent of South Korea’s cases have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Of 60 new cases reported on Tuesday, 16 were in the southeastern city of Daegu, where the church is located.
Last week the government decided to designate Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo County as “special care zones”.
Moon on Tuesday sought to reassure residents that the government was not considering locking down the area. (South Korea’s Presidential Office via Reuters Connect)
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