While Singaporeans have become more fully aware of the threat from Covid-19, another has been looming steadily on the horizon: the reappearance of dengue on a sizeable scale. Precautions are necessary to prevent a massive outbreak that would put pressure on healthcare facilities precisely when they are needed to contain the coronavirus. The figures are disturbing. Dengue cases have hit a new high, with about 200 new cases a day and two consecutive weekly tallies that exceeded all-time peaks. The 1,377 infections last week surpassed the previous week's 1,154 - the first time weekly cases crossed the 1,000 mark in Singapore's history. The rate of new infections, too, is unprecedented. More than 12,500 people have been infected with the mosquito-borne disease. If that sounds bad, the perspective is worse: This is only the start of the peak dengue season that lasts from June till October. At least 12 people have died from dengue this year.
Although the National Environment Agency (NEA) has made clear what needs to be done in the fight against dengue, some Singaporeans may need to re-familiarise themselves with the measures. Essentially, the viruses that cause dengue fever and Zika are carried by the Aedes mosquito. Thus, it is crucial to prevent its breeding. The Aedes mosquito, which is identifiable by the distinctive black and white stripes on its body, prefers to breed in clean, stagnant water that is also prevalent in homes. Hence, to get rid of the Aedes mosquito, it is necessary to check and remove stagnant water on premises frequently.
Singaporeans need to appreciate how a small preventive measure can help avert the suffering, possibly fatal, associated with dengue. There are also lessons to be drawn from the Covid-19 outbreak. Initially, wearing masks in public was a matter of some discomfort. But as the urgency of the situation sank in, it became second nature. Taking preventive steps against dengue deserves a similar psychological response. The disease is a substantial public health threat whose true nature must be recognised so that people become habitual adherents of the five-step mozzie wipeout.
NEA, on its part, is looking at scaling up its Wolbachia programme to suppress the number of Aedes mosquitoes by releasing sterile male mosquitoes in dengue hot spots. Eggs from female mosquitoes, with which they mate, will not hatch. This is a promising programme. But it is up against a confluence of factors that makes Singapore particularly vulnerable to dengue. The country lies in a dengue-endemic region marked by a warm climate and high humidity which permit the year-round breeding of Aedes mosquitoes. Then there is Singapore's high human population density in an urban environment. Thus, it falls on every resident to fight this national scourge together, not least amid the pandemic.