All must do their part in fight against coronavirus: Minister
Multiple lines of defence in place for 'long road ahead' as Gan Kim Yong lists three scenarios in Parliament
Warning of a protracted battle against the contagious new coronavirus, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said Singapore is preparing for various contingencies by setting up multiple lines of defence.
Cautioning against complacency during his ministerial statement in Parliament yesterday, Mr Gan said: "There could be a long road ahead... We must stand ready to respond to new developments as the situation evolves."
The virus, which surfaced at the end of last year in the city of Wuhan, has claimed at least 360 lives from more than 17,000 infections in China.
The 57 confirmed new deaths yesterday has pushed the death toll beyond the number of fatalities in China from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) crisis two decades ago.
As Singapore confirmed yesterday there have been no new infection cases for the second day running, Mr Gan said: "We must stay calm but cautious.
"Our early intervention efforts have helped to contain the spread so far, but while we hope for the best, we must plan for the worst."
Noting that Singapore had been preparing for a potential outbreak like this since Sars in 2003, the minister said multiple lines of defence had been set up to reduce the risk of imported cases and local community spread of the coronavirus.
Addressing the anxiety of Singaporeans facing a mysterious enemy with many unknowns, Mr Gan stressed: "I want to reiterate the Government's firm commitment that we will spare no effort in protecting our people.
"We will act swiftly and share information on the novel coronavirus openly and as soon as possible."
Acknowledging that it is still not known how the coronavirus will develop and how long the outbreak will last, Mr Gan presented three possible scenarios.
One, there could be community spread in more Chinese cities beyond Wuhan or in other countries.
This may require Singapore to roll out additional measures to prevent importation of and to contain the virus.
Two, community spread could happen in Singapore.
"Despite our efforts, this is a possibility we must be ready for," said Mr Gan, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force on the virus with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.
If the community spread is extensive, steps to reduce human interactions, such as cancelling mass gatherings and suspending schools, as well as infection control measures may be considered.
Three, the virus could mutate to become more infectious and spread widely, resulting in a pandemic.
Mr Gan said that available evidence suggested the rate of human-to-human transmission of this virus could be higher than that of Sars.
However, the various ministries have been stepping up efforts at each line of defence.
"First, we have measures that serve to prevent further importation of the virus into our shores," Mr Gan said.
"Second, we have measures that help us to detect and contain the virus, and prevent it from spreading further. We have good surveillance systems to identify cases."
Mr Gan also paid tribute to healthcare workers at the front line. "They are on heightened alert and stand ready to deal with cases as they emerge."
Mr Gan said it was heartening that China is doing all it can to contain the virus, including restricting travel for its people.
"We have to work together and collaborate with each other.
"For this reason, Singapore will be putting together an assistance package to help the communities in China affected by the novel coronavirus," he added. More details will be provided later.
Appealing to all Singaporeans to work with the Government in this fight, Mr Gan said: "Most importantly, all of us must play our part and exercise social responsibility to prevent or stem any possible spread of the coronavirus in the community.
"This is a fight that calls on every individual to do his part. We are confident that we can manage and overcome this challenge as a nation and emerge stronger together."
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