Mindset change needed to fight viruses

We have seen the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) virus into Asia, and countries in the region are now facing the prospect of Mers spreading to their shores.

Having faced the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus, Singapore appears to be in a position to deal with Mers head on.

However, we need to look hard at our defences and see if we are truly ready.

In South Korea, there had been cases where people flouted the basic principles of containment - they flew and went to crowded places, even when they had symptoms of flu.

Asia is a highly populated region with many crowded places. If we do not have a mindset change, we are fertile ground for the propagation of this virus.

We must all realise that the individual is responsible for not infecting others. If one feels unwell, rest, stay at home; if there is a need to go out, wear a mask. We should avoid the mentality that the authorities should do this or that, and take care of ourselves first.

In Singapore, parents persist in sending their children to childcare centres even when their children are sick.

When we fall sick, no one wears masks. People still go out to parties when they are coughing violently. Others will take plane journeys despite feeling unwell as they do not wish to pay for cancellation charges.

Our work culture is also such that employees who are sick have to go to a doctor and get a medical certificate, instead of reporting sick and resting at home.

One of the reasons for our success against Sars was the draconian measures adopted to quarantine people who were ill.

Now, we have armchair critics who are highly critical of whatever seems to infringe on their rights. Will they support such measures or criticise them?

How can we best prepare for another virus?

First, we must all realise that the individual is responsible for not infecting others. If one feels unwell, rest, stay at home; if there is a need to go out, wear a mask.

We should avoid the mentality that the authorities should do this or that, and take care of ourselves first.

Second, we should have a high level of vigilance and take bold and firm steps to act, even if it brings inconvenience and some financial pain.

Lastly, we need to allow sick employees to stay at home if they are ill.

Loon Seng Chee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2015, with the headline 'Mindset change needed to fight viruses'. Print Edition | Subscribe