Singapore—Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong explained on February 14 (Friday) that the current coronavirus outbreak, Covid-19, is more similar to 2009’s H1N1 or swine flu than to 2003’s SARS.
Numbers-wise, of the 238 people who contracted SARS, 33 died, while with H1N1, of the 430,000 people in Singapore infected, 21 succumbed to the sickness.
One similarity with H1N1 that Mr Wong pointed out is that with Covid-19, people are infectious when they show mild symptoms of the new coronavirus. Mr Wong co-chairs the multi-ministry task force established to address the Covid-19 outbreak along with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
One difference, however, is the swiftness with which alert levels were raised for H1N1 and Covid-19. For H1N1, Singapore’s alert levels were raised to yellow even before it reached our shores, but with Covid-19, it was only when a local transmission of the coronavirus occurred that Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) code yellow was raised. Three days later, it was raised to orange, as more local sources of infection arose.
But according to the Ministry of Health, there are no plans to raise the alert level to code red, a sign that community contagion has become widespread.
During the H1N1 outbreak, the code went from red to yellow in a few days and went back down to yellow after 12 days of being at orange, when the virus proved to have a very low mortality rate. Experts now classify H1N1 as part of seasonal flu, with a morality rate of likely lower than 0.02 percent.
Covid-19’s fatality rate is 2.6 percent in Hubei, the province in central China where it originated, and 0.6 percent everywhere else. But since the disease is still new, this will most likely still change.
A report in the straitstimes.com has Mr Wong pointing out that SARS’ mortality rate was much higher, at 10 percent. Of the new coronavirus, he said, “It is not a mild illness at all, but certainly not of the severity of Sars.
To give this some perspective, if you look at H1N1 and the flu pandemic in 2009, 10 per cent to 20 per cent of the global population contracted the illness.”
With the new virus, how many people actually get the disease may not be the same.
“But because the transmission patterns are similar to H1N1, we should be prepared for a scenario where you get wider transmission around the world,” Mr Wong added.
He announced that if the larger number of the confirmed cases in the country prove to be mild ones, management of the outbreak will shift from contact tracing and quarantine to primary care doctors seeing to the mild cases and hospitalization for the more severe ones.
This, he said, is how the Government dealt with the H1N1 outbreak.”It’s the strategy we used to deal with H1N1. Again we are not saying we are there yet.”
This is only the second time that Dorscon alert level orange has been raised, since it was only established after the SARS outbreak was over. But Mr Wong said that if the alert system had been around in 2003, the Government would have raised the alert level to orange during the SARS outbreak as well. -/TISG