Singapore hospitals are 'safe from coronavirus infection'
As three new cases confirmed, Health GPC chief cites strong protocols to protect patients, medical workers
No coronavirus infection has been transmitted in a Singapore hospital so far as strong protocols are in place to protect patients and healthcare workers.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Health, was reassuring Singaporeans after a study that found 41 per cent of the first 138 patients diagnosed at one hospital in Wuhan, China, were presumed to have been infected in the hospital.
Dr Chia's reassurance came as the Health Ministry last night confirmed three new infections, including a 71-year-old Singaporean grandfather who had been to the Paya Lebar Methodist Church, the second church in Paya Lebar to be linked to the virus.
The other two are a 39-year-old Bangladeshi work pass holder and a 54-year-old Singaporean man who works in Resorts World Sentosa.
Six patients are now in critical condition in the intensive care unit, up from four previously, the ministry said.
Four patients were discharged from hospital yesterday, making up a total of six people to have recovered fully from the infection.
Quoting the study on the Wuhan hospital, which was published in the medical journal Jama, Dr Tom Frieden called for more protection of healthcare workers against the virus.
The former director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in a CNN commentary: "Since there's a broad spectrum of infection and only patients who were sick were tested, it's quite likely that there was even more transmission in the hospital."
He said that healthcare workers are at especially high risk, and more information is urgently needed on how infectious the virus is.
While noting that viruses can spread in hospital environments, Dr Chia said empirical evidence still shows the coronavirus spreads mainly outside of hospitals.
He told The New Paper: "We can't extrapolate from a study like this, because if a hospital has no protocols, then the virus will spread.
"The study was done in Wuhan in the early days of the outbreak when isolation was not great."
Since then, China and the international community have stepped up their defences.
Stressing that every hospital has different protocols and systems, Dr Chia noted that the study was limited to one hospital in Wuhan.
He said hospitals in Singapore have been on high alert and have protocol to contain and prevent spread of the virus.
To be on the safe side, anyone with fever or pneumonia is now assumed to have the virus until proven otherwise.
He also said that medical professionals here have been going above and beyond the requirements set out by the World Health Organisation.
"We are being a bit more careful than what is scientifically recommended. We went into a higher posture even before the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level went up (to orange)," he added.
"Of course, we are concerned, but this is part of our daily work. Many of us lived through Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), so we are acutely aware (of the risks)."
Dr Chia said that morale in the healthcare sector remains high and reiterated that the hospitals are prepared.
Sections of the hospitals have been cordoned off and patient visits have also been tightened.
Medical personnel have also started practising social distancing and have been split into segregated teams to ensure operational continuity.
As community spread remains the primary concern, Dr Chia hopes that Singaporeans will behave responsibly.
He said: "During the Sars period, we saw cases where people would break quarantine or leave of absence.
"There were quite a few cases and the police had to step in. I hope that we will not see this, this time around."
He stressed that people who are ill should not be out and about, and if they need to go out, they should wear a mask to prevent spread of the virus.
In a new development, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has revoked the work passes of four foreign workers and suspended the work pass privileges of six employers after they were found to have breached the leave of absence (LOA) requirements to manage the coronavirus situation.
During random checks from Feb 4 to 8, the ministry caught the four work pass holders at their workplaces during their LOA period.
Their work passes were revoked, and they were repatriated within 24 hours. They have also been banned permanently from working in Singapore.
Acting on information, MOM found two permanent residents at their workplaces during their LOA period.
As employers are responsible for ensuring their workers observe the LOA, all six employers in these cases have had their work pass privileges suspended for two years.
Work pass holders with recent travel history to China must serve a mandatory 14-day LOA upon their return.
Other workers with recent travel history to China must also to be placed on 14-day LOA upon their return.