How Singapore Is Helping The World Deal With Coronavirus

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Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Like most people, I am deeply concerned about the spread of this novel coronavirus and how quickly it has paralyzed the global economy. Thankfully, I have found some clear answers about its origins and how the virus spreads, which is enough to calm my worries at this point.

Allow me to share with you the video (begin at 6:14) and an excerpt (see below) of the speech delivered by Singapore’s Health Minister Gan Kim Yong to the Parliament of Singapore on February 3. The early response and pacifying tone of the speech offers more hope than warning. The concise and factual briefing also gives some assurance that we are not as helpless as what some media reports would like us to believe.

It is the best explanation of the coronavirus I have seen so far and stands out as a model for crisis communications that other nations can follow.

Most important of all, Minister Yong has carefully explained here how we can contain this epidemic through simple though often challenging preventive measures that each of us can do on our own. I have highlighted the essential points for your easy reference.

EXCERPT FROM THE FEBRUARY 2 2020 SPEECH OF SINGAPORE’S HEALTH MINISTER GAN KIM YONG

Let me now share about what we know about this novel coronavirus.

The virus comes from the family of coronavirus, which includes other viruses such as Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), as well as the milder variance causing common cold.

The medical consensus at this moment is that the novel coronavirus is more transmissible, but appears less deadly than Sars.

Transmission: Available evidence suggests that the rate of human-to-human transmission of this virus appears to be higher than that of Sars.

For now, the evidence also suggests that transmission is mostly via droplets. What this means is that the virus is carried within droplets emitted from an infected person over a short distance, such as when the person coughs or sneezes.

If these droplets come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth of an individual, directly or indirectly through hands that have come into contact with these droplets, the individual may become infected.

To clarify, there is no evidence currently to suggest that the virus is airborne. There are other viruses, such as chickenpox, which can easily be transported via air currents, and do not require droplets to contact the eyes or nose. The novel coronavirus is not in this category of viruses.

The novel coronavirus could also transmit through surface contact. When a person sneezes or coughs, the droplets fall onto the surfaces of tables and chairs, for example, and the virus may remain alive for up to a few days.

When someone else touches the surfaces, the virus can be transferred to his hand and if he then rubs his eyes or nose without washing his hands, he may become infected.

So we should wash our hands. This is also why we only quarantine the close contacts of confirmed cases.

For more transient contacts, such as individuals that the confirmed cases may have walked past in malls or hotels, the risk of transmission is low.

For coronavirus generally, the person is most infectious when he is displaying symptoms or symptomatic, and this is likely to be the case for the novel coronavirus as well.

There is evidence of limited spread from a person without symptoms, during the incubation period. However, this form of transmission may be uncommon, and has so far involved isolated cases only.

At this point, the evidence still points towards higher transmissibility when the person is displaying symptoms.

As such, medical professionals both overseas and in Singapore have advised that the most effective way that we can protect ourselves is to practice good personal hygiene. We should regularly wash our hands with soap and water, and avoid touching our face with our hands.

These may sound simple, but are effective in preventing all kinds of infection.

Potential infection from asymptomatic persons is less likely to be from coughing or sneezing directly but more likely by touching contaminated surfaces, for which masks offer no protection.

Wearing a mask when we are well often give us a false sense of security instead, and we are more likely to touch our faces when we constantly adjust our masks, which is one way the disease spreads.

At the same time, we need to protect others — our loved ones, friends, colleagues and fellow Singaporeans that we come into contact with. If we are sick, we should rest and recover at home as far as possible. If we do need to go out to see a doctor, for example, we should wear a surgical mask to protect others.

So this is when a mask is needed — when we are unwell and have to go out.

Symptoms and treatment: Persons exposed to the virus may be well for a few days, before developing symptoms such as fever, or cough and some may develop pneumonia eventually.

There is currently no known curative treatment for the novel coronavirus. Development of a successful cure may take time, maybe months or years. The current approach is to provide good supportive care for the patients to reduce complications and to allow time for the patient to recover.

The current case fatality rate stands at about 2–3 per cent. Majority of the deaths are among those with underlying medical conditions. The fatality rate seems lower than Sars, which was around 10 per cent but we are still at the initial stages of the outbreak and the actual severity can only be assessed properly in time to come.

Regardless, the Government’s response has been, and will continue to be swift and decisive, to contain the spread of the virus here. Let me elaborate on the preparations we have made and measures we have taken.

There is no need to panic in a time of crisis and uncertainty. What we need is veracity not velocity, just some truthful and evidence-based reporting that usually gets diluted by the rapid news cycle even if we do not have the full picture yet. Thank you Singapore for showing the world how it is done.

Written by

Former presidential speechwriter, still a musician; writes about urban gridlocks. Will work full time for the planet. Harvard Kennedy School ‘14 🇵🇭

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