One week on: 7 things about the Zika outbreak in Singapore

Zika alert poster outside the lift below Block 107 Aljunied Crescent on Sept 2, 2016.
Zika alert poster outside the lift below Block 107 Aljunied Crescent on Sept 2, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A week after the first locally transmitted Zika case was reported, Singapore's numbers stand at 242 as of Sunday (Sept 4) night.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong cautioned on Thursday (Sept 1) night that Singaporeans should assume the Zika virus will be found islandwide, while Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told people on Saturday that they should carry on with life as usual.

We take a look at developments over the course of the past week.

1. Singapore is doing it right in terms of disease management, says WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) called Singapore a global role model in how the city-state has managed the spread of Zika.

"We really have to congratulate the transparency and quick reporting the Government of Singapore has implemented in the case of this outbreak and hope that all other countries can do the same," said outbreaks and emergencies head Peter Salama after the organisation's emergency Zika committee meeting in Geneva.

Dr Salama praised the republic's epidemiological and laboratory work as well as public health efforts such as destruction of the mosquito population.

Read more here.

2. A*Star scientists have developed a test kit for three mosquito-borne diseases

Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) unveiled a test kit that checks for the dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses all at the same time.

The made-in-Singapore kit, which produces results in just two hours, costs only a few dollars to produce.

Senior research scientist Masafumi Inoue, who is part of the team that developed the kit, said that work started around six months ago when Brazil was in the throes of a Zika outbreak.

Read more here.

3. The Zika virus in Singapore likely to be South-east Asian strain

The National Public Health Laboratory and A*Star have sequenced the genome of the Zika virus in two patients from the initial Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive cluster.

They discovered that the virus is related to the strain that has already been circulating for decades in parts of South-east Asia such as Thailand and the Philippines, and not the strain that is spreading through South America.

This is good news because people in the region have higher chances of having built up immunity to a South-east Asian strain.

It may also mean that the birth defects seen in Brazil are less likely to crop up here.

Read more here.

4. As foreign workers were hard hit, construction firms will step up control efforts

Construction workers in Sims Drive were among the earliest Zika cases in the country, and news broke that about half the Zika patients on Thursday were foreign nationals working in Singapore.

The numbers have revealed the vulnerability of construction workers to the disease, especially those who live in on-site dormitories, as well as the risk of mosquito breeding in construction sites.

The Sims Urban Oasis construction site was slapped with a stop work order, and main contractor Woh Hup introduced precautions such as mosquito trap installation and twice-daily temperature-taking for workers.

The Singapore Contractors Association also called for members to prevent mosquito breeding at work sites and ensure prompt medical attention for workers suspected of having contracted Zika.

Read more here.

5. Politicians are working to address pregnant residents' concerns

Member of Parliament Tin Pei Ling - who represents Macpherson, the ward where the first locally transmitted case of Zika was reported - was quick to address the fears of pregnant residents who associated news of the virus with images of babies with microcephaly and other brain damage.

Ms Tin acted quickly to draw up a list of pregnant residents with whom she promised to check in regularly, and also visited obstetrics and gynaecology clinics in the area to speak to doctors and patients.

Pasir-Ris Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling also made the rounds in her ward after a Punggol Way resident was diagnosed with Zika. Ms Sun handed out mosquito repellent and informational posters to residents in Punggol, where many residents are of childbearing age.

"It's important for them to see me walking around," said Ms Sun, who is seven months pregnant. "I want them to know that life can go on as normal with Zika, so long as you take precautions."

Government agencies and grassroots leaders have been canvassing residents across the island with information on how to destroy mosquito breeding areas, protect themselves from the disease, and identify symptoms.

Read more here.

6. Mosquito repellent is flying off shelves as Singaporeans stockpile the stuff

Some supermarkets and pharmacies ran out of stock for insect repellent sprays and patches, as well as insecticide, as flustered Singaporeans began hoarding these items for their own protection.

NTUC FairPrice chief executive Seah Kian Peng said that the supermarket chain is working with suppliers to bring in more stock. He also assured consumers that prices would remain stable, but urged the public to only buy as much as they needed.

Although MOH has said that all mosquito repellent products in Singapore are safe for use during pregnancy, some pregnant residents are wary of those that contain Deet as an ingredient, and are relying on plant essential oils such as citronella instead.

Read more here.

7. Singapore is facing travel advisories from numerous countries, although WHO says curbs are unneeded

WHO said that despite the public health emergency, there ought not to be general restrictions on travel and trade with countries where Zika is being actively transmitted.

That did not stop several places - including the United States, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan - from issuing advisories against non-essential travel to Singapore, especially for those who are pregnant.

Malaysia has even turned to thermal screening at the border for travellers arriving from Singapore.

The first locally transmitted Zika case in Singapore involved a Malaysian national, and the first locally transmitted case of Zika in peninsular Malaysia was also a woman who had been infected in Singapore.

Read more here.

More Zika stories here.