Parliament: Take necessary precautions on coronavirus outbreak but life must go on, says Gan Kim Yong

A man wears a mask as he walks around the Chinatown district of Singapore on Feb 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - Life must go on in spite of the coronavirus outbreak, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament on Tuesday (Feb 18), as he noted that the country may need to prepare to live with the virus for a long time.

He was responding to a question from Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad, who had asked how long it might be before Singaporeans can get back to normal day-to-day life.

"We may have to learn how to live with it and, in fact, that is also one consideration. That's why even today, we are encouraging Singaporeans to live life as normally as possible," Mr Gan said.

"Life must go on, take the necessary precautions, but we can continue to live normally as much as possible so that there's no need to have drastic shifts from one way to the other."

The Health Minister added that a lot of precautions that are currently being taken are practices that should continue even without an outbreak.

He said: "I think this is also an opportunity for us to reinforce these socially responsible practices - ensure that if you are sick, see a doctor and observe personal hygiene practices; wash your hands frequently.

"It doesn't mean that once Covid-19 is over, if it's ever over, we stop washing hands. So I think it's a habit that we should inculcate today and live life as normally as possible, taking necessary precautions."

The first parliamentary session since the Ministry of Health stepped up Singapore's response level from yellow to orange was understandably dominated by questions about the virus, with nearly a dozen MPs rising to speak.

Noting that different organisations had taken different approaches to handling the virus, Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten SMC) asked what advice the ministry would give to organisations.

Mr Gan said that the Government has been briefing various corporations, organisations and religious groups on precautions that they can put in place to protect themselves from the virus. He added that any group that has doubts about the situation can contact the authorities for advice.

This includes scenarios where a positive case has been identified within an organisation.

In such cases, organisations will be told to carry out disinfection and cleaning procedures, said Mr Gan.

He added: "Sometimes, organisations may overreact and take (it) upon themselves to do things that may not be necessary and may cause misunderstanding. We therefore advise organisations that when there is a confirmed case, if they're not sure, to consult us or to consult NEA (the National Environment Agency), which oversees the environmental cleaning processes.

"I think this way, we will be able to react calmly and effectively... to any confirmed cases."

Ms Cheryl Chan (Fengshan SMC) then asked about how the Government is handling misinformation, saying she was earlier asked to evacuate her office building because an ambulance had come.

"But actually, what we found out was there was no Covid-19. The person actually had choked," she said.

Mr Gan said that closed chat groups that share misinformation can pose a "very difficult challenge" due to their private nature. However, he encouraged members of the public to seek accurate, official information.

"We have been sharing as much as we can. All that we know, we share with the public. We have daily press briefings and occasional press conferences by ministers and regular updates from time to time, even within the day," he said.

"Rest assured that we will provide as much information as we have obtained - there is no need to second guess what the situation is."

He added: "There is no easy solution, but each of us can play our part by not forwarding unverified information, and informing the authorities if you come across any of them."

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