Singapore—In Parliament early this week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong talked about Singapore’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including what the Government could have done better. He mentioned not requiring masks and not acting on the foreign workers’ dormitory situation sooner to be among the mistakes in the Government’s response to the pandemic.
He did say, however, that realizing this in hindsight is “wisdom after the fact”, telling Members of Parliament that “in the fog of war, it is not possible always to make the perfect decisions”.
But the Prime Minister added that the current pandemic is by no means the final public health issue Singapore will have to face, as there is already talk of a more serious infectious illness, Disease X, which he mentioned that scientists have already been discussing. This disease is said to mutate easily, spread quickly and could be more fatal.
PM Lee made these remarks in the context of needing to be prepared for this possibility, which may happen sooner than people would like to believe.
He said in Parliament, “Covid-19 has been a disaster for the world, but it is not Disease X. It is not the worst new disease that can befall humankind.
So we had better learn from Covid-19 how to deal with a pandemic, and be as ready as we can, should a worse one – when a worse one – befall us. We should build up our resilience, our instincts, our preparations. So that when Disease X does come one day, we will be prepared.”
A report in the straitstimes.com quotes senior consultant at the division of infectious diseases at the National University Hospital, Dale Fisher, as saying that at present, Disease X is still only a hypothetical concept that is used as a warning for people to prepare well for its coming.
“It is also potentially useful in driving preparedness efforts and not being complacent as the world is most at risk from novel infections or major mutations in existing micro-organisms and less so from pathogens we already know about, such as Ebola,” he said.
As for the vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Associate Professor Alex Cook, he mentioned the similarities of Disease X with the present coronavirus.
“It is a new virus, caused a respiratory disease pandemic, and it wasn’t influenza. Its mode of transmission wasn’t known at first, nor was its symptomatology or severity profile. We still don’t know about immunity to Sars-CoV-2. It is also severe enough to cause many deaths but not too severe that it is easy to control, like the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).”
But since the possibilities surrounding the next infection are myriad, the professor cautioned that it would be a mistake to think Disease X will be exactly like Covid-19.
“It could be a new influenza virus, like the one that caused the 1918 pandemic, killing tens of millions of people. It could also be something more severe, in the mould of Sars, the Middle East respiratory syndrome or the Nipah virus,” the professor said.
He added, “So while Covid-19 has been a disaster for the world, with almost a million deaths, the next big one will be different – and could be worse.
I think that is why PM Lee cautioned us not to think of Covid-19 as Disease X.” —/TISG
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