Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in Parliament yesterday that the road ahead in the battle against the coronavirus could be long. He outlined three potential scenarios Singaporeans need to be prepared for. Rei Kurohi reports.
1 Community spread in more Chinese cities beyond Wuhan as well as in other countries
Mr Gan said Singapore may need to roll out additional measures to prevent the import of the virus and contain it if it continues to spread.
In the last few weeks, the number of cases worldwide has risen beyond 17,000, spread over at least 23 countries.
Yesterday, the death toll in China hit 361, exceeding the 349 killed in mainland China by the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) virus in 2002 and 2003.
Mr Gan said the decision to implement yet more measures would not be easy to make.
"We have to do what is necessary to protect the health and safety of our people and those who travel to Singapore," he added.
2 Community spread in Singapore
Mr Gan said Singaporeans must be ready for the possibility of community spread here despite the country's best efforts to prevent it.
The key to managing the spread is quick detection and limiting it from going further.
This requires everyone to be socially responsible.
"If the infected Singaporean wears a mask to protect others, and promptly sees a doctor and gets triaged for testing, the risk of further spread can be greatly reduced," the minister said.
"Even if there is (community) spread, quick action will help to limit its extent. Once (a person has) tested positive, the Government will contact-trace quickly, helping to reduce further spread to close contacts."
He added that if the community spread becomes very extensive, the Government will need to consider measures to reduce human-to-human interactions.
Some of these potential measures include cancelling mass gatherings, suspending classes in schools, paring down non-essential care services, and introducing further infection control and monitoring measures to slow the spread.
During the 2003 Sars outbreak in Singapore, primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and centralised institutes were shut from late March to mid-April.
3 Virus mutation and possible pandemic
Mr Gan warned that it was possible the coronavirus could mutate to become more infectious and spread widely, resulting in a pandemic. "This is the known unknown, and we have to assess what best to do, depending on how the virus mutates."
He said it was also possible the virus could become less infectious or less severe, but this is a scenario to "worry about when it comes".
The minister said that on the healthcare front, Singapore is stepping up preparations for these potential scenarios.
For example, the capacity of isolation beds was increased by around 100 in the past two weeks.
Singapore has also been increasing its testing capacity to more quickly confirm suspect cases. "This is a fight that calls on every individual to do his part," he said. "We are confident that we can manage and overcome this challenge as a nation, and emerge stronger together."