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Personal hygiene the first line of defence against Covid-19: Masagos

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If neglected, other measures such as border control and quarantine would not be as effective in combating outbreak: Masagos

Keeping yourself and your surroundings clean is no longer a matter of preference or being gracious, but the first line of defence against Covid-19, a panel of experts told The Straits Times yesterday.

In a discussion highlighting the importance of hygiene during this critical period, SG Clean Taskforce leader Masagos Zulkifli stressed that other measures such as border controls and quarantine would not be as effective in combating the outbreak if personal hygiene was neglected.

He noted that in the past two decades, the Sars, Mers and H1N1 outbreaks were contagious or dangerous.

The current Covid-19 pandemic, however, is both.

"Therefore, we do need to think deeply for ourselves and for society - what we want and how we are going to ensure that what we do will build these defences for the future.

"Public and personal hygiene is Singapore's first defence, not just against Covid-19 today, but against other breakouts that we cannot foresee in the future," he added.

The new task force was launched earlier this month to raise cleanliness and public hygiene levels, and to change people's habits to stop the spread of disease.

Mr Masagos was one of four panellists in an hour-long discussion around the theme of "Keep clean, to keep well", aired as a special episode of ST's talk show, The Big Story.

The other experts were Mr Tai Ji Choong, director of the National Environment Agency's department of public cleanliness; Public Hygiene Council chairman Edward D'Silva; and Professor Wang Linfa, director of the emerging infectious diseases programme at Duke-NUS Medical School.


Prof Wang explained why frequent hand-washing is an effective tool in battling the virus.

He said: The virus has a lipid membrane on the outer layer that keeps it intact, said Prof Wang, and many of the cleaning agents, such as soaps and hand sanitisers, can dissolve this lipid membrane.

"All of these (cleaning agents) will not only clean the environment in a sort of general sense. More specifically, for this Covid-19, you can actually disrupt the virus and prevent the transmission."

Mr Masagos also said that while Singaporeans are worried about Covid-19, they must not lose sight of the fight against an equally dangerous disease - dengue fever.

Since the start of this year, there have been more than 4,000 cases of dengue infections here, double that of the same period last year.

The panel also touched on the hygiene habits of Singaporeans.

Mr Masagos said while most Singaporeans do not litter, they tend not to have good habits such as returning food trays and keeping the table clean for the next user.