SINGAPORE — On Monday (Jan 27), National Development Minister Lawrence Wong likened the current Wuhan virus spread to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003. Mr Wong noted that the Wuhan outbreak could possibly overtake SARS in severity and advised Singaporeans to be “psychologically prepared”, “keep calm, carry on with your lives … and take the necessary precautions”.
The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has taken over Singapore, with headlines all over the media blaring updates, warnings and advise to citizens on how to cope with the current situation.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force specially formed to combat the outbreak in Singapore, said that while experts say it’s still too early to tell if Wuhan will be worse than SARS, psychological preparation is key to be able to face what’s coming.
“Be psychologically prepared that this may take some time to unravel, but be assured, too, that we have a system in place,” said Mr Wong.
He also emphasised that after the SARS epidemic of 2003, Singapore is more equipped to deal with a virus outbreak. The SARS coronavirus infected 238 people in Singapore and claimed the lives of 33—patients, doctors and healthcare workers alike were not exempt from the virus, which was spread through close contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person.
“We have put in place inter-ministry coordination mechanisms … [and] drawer plans for a full range of different scenarios of the virus outbreak,” Mr Wong said.
According to Mr Wong, while medical experts are saying that the Wuhan virus is not yet as infectious as SARS—and currently still has a lower fatality rate—”the situation is evolving so quickly … [and] the virus is getting stronger”.
“I think the spread of the [Wuhan] virus will be much faster because we are unable to identify and isolate unlike SARS—we had the means to because of symptoms,” said Mr Wong, responding to queries about risk of infections spreading even before symptoms show.
However, he clarified that this statement was preliminary, as the task force is still in consultation with medical experts to prove if the Wuhan virus can be spread pre-symptoms. He noted that the team will have to “do more and escalate our measures even further” if that becomes the case.
With all the “imponderables” and “uncertainties” surrounding the Wuhan virus, Singaporeans need to be physically and mentally ready for what is to come.
In a post that he made to Facebook on Tuesday (Jan 28), Mr Wong spoke of the additional measures the government is taking to combat the outbreak.
<Wuhan coronavirus – additional measures>I mentioned yesterday that the situation is evolving rapidly, and the key is…
“We have a comprehensive plan with contingencies for different scenarios. These measures are part of our plans. Given the accelerating trends and risk levels, we’ve decided to activate them now.
“We have to be mindful that the situation is fluid, with new information coming out from China every day, and with our risk assessments being updated constantly. There are signs now that the virus is more transmissible than SARS although less fatal. But we can’t tell how things will unfold. We have to be prepared that this Wuhan virus may well be different from SARS, including the possibility of infection before any symptoms arise. We cannot rule out the possibility of wider infection and community spread,” wrote Mr Wong.
While the situation is become more dire everyday, Mr Wong had words of encouragement for Singaporeans—
“We want to assure Singaporeans that we are [better prepared], and that’s why our message is: Keep calm, carry on with our lives, but all of us work together, take the necessary precautions and we can overcome this together.”