Wuhan virus: MOH sets up taskforce and issues travel advisory; 3 more suspected cases isolated in S'pore

A man wears a face mask as he walks past a display for the upcoming Lunar New Year, the Year of the Rat, in Beijing, on 22 January, 2020. (PHOTO: AP)

SINGAPORE — Three more suspected cases with pneumonia have been admitted for further assessment and treatment as well as isolated as a precautionary measure here, as the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus widens across China and other parts of the world.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday (22 January) that it was notified of these cases – a 3-year-old male Chinese national, a 4-year-old male Chinese national, and a 78-year-old female Singapore resident – as of 4pm.

The trio – all of whom have travelled to mainland China – remain in stable condition.

Previously, seven suspected cases in Singapore have been declared negative of the new coronavirus strain, which likely originated from a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The virus belongs to the same family of viruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak and also started in China.

Multi-ministry taskforce set up

The announcement comes hours after Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong revealed on social media that he will be co-chairing a multi-ministry taskforce, together with Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong, to deal with the eventual spread of the virus here.

“The Wuhan virus situation has escalated sharply in the last few days and is evolving very rapidly. The MOH is at the frontline dealing with this public health issue. But it requires a whole-of-government, even a whole-of-Singapore, response,” said Wong.

On Wednesday, Chinese authorities announced that nine people had died from the coronavirus and 471 people across 13 Chinese provinces had been confirmed to be infected.

They also warned that the still-unidentified virus, recently confirmed to be transmissible between humans, could mutate.

Over the past week, at least 10 cases have been confirmed beyond mainland China, including the US, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan.

In his Facebook post, Wong stressed that the government will “spare no effort to defend and protect Singapore and Singaporeans”, but noted that the most important defence is for the Republic to be “psychologically prepared”.

“We must stay calm and carry on with our lives. We must be prepared that, despite our best defences, it is a matter of time before we see imported cases here and be ready to mount a swift and effective response,” said Wong, as he called on for Singaporeans to be socially responsible.

“If you show symptoms, don’t go out and certainly avoid crowded places. See the doctor immediately so you can be assessed early and get treatment. All of us need to continue to adopt good hygiene habits – wear a mask if you have a cold and must go out; wash our hands regularly, etc,” he added.

Issues first public health travel advisory

In its first public health travel advisory regarding the situation in Wuhan, the MOH on Wednesday also called on travellers to avoid non-essential travel to the Chinese city.

“All travellers should monitor their health closely for two weeks upon return to Singapore and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell, and also inform their doctor of their travel history,” the ministry added.

Those who develop fever or exhibit symptoms such as cough and runny nose should wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of their visit.

“Travellers to China are also advised to stay vigilant, monitor developments and heed the advice of the local Chinese authorities while in China,” the MOH added.

In the advisory, the ministry also reiterated its stepped up precautionary measures, which were announced in the past two days and came into effect on Wednesday.

Among them, individuals with pneumonia and have travelled to China – not just Wuhan – within 14 days before the onset of symptoms will now be isolated in hospital.

Individuals with acute respiratory infection who had been to any hospital in China within 14 days before the onset of symptoms will also be isolated in hospital. All travellers arriving from China will also have their temperatures screened.

While there have been no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus reported in Singapore as of Wednesday, the ministry cautioned that more suspected cases, and possibly imported cases, are expected to emerge given the high volume of international travel to Singapore.