Covid-19 cluster concerns: See a doctor if you have a cough or cold, experts urge

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin has cautioned Singapore residents against complacency during the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.
Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin has cautioned Singapore residents against complacency during the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

SINGAPORE - If you have a cough, sore throat or runny nose, you should not think it is just the common flu. It could mean you have Covid-19, medical experts said on Tuesday (Jan 19).

And now is not the time to avoid seeing a doctor and getting a medical certificate (MC) if you are unwell, added infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam.

"Covid-19 is pictured as a virus that kills with severe pneumonia, but in the initial days of the illness it behaves like any cold virus," he said.

His advice comes as a seventh case was added to the Covid-19 cluster linked to a police para-veterinarian.

Four cases linked to this cluster did not seek medical treatment even though they fell ill with flu-like symptoms. Three of them were tested for Covid-19 only after being contacted by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Getting tested may mean getting a compulsory MC requiring one to stay at home till the result is out.

But it will help to stop the spread of the coronavirus, said Dr Leong.

"Early identification of infected individuals will help save lives," he added.

Dr Ling Li Min, who is also an infectious diseases physician at the Rophi Clinic, said: "A misconception is that one has to feel unwell or must have fever before seeking treatment."

But many of the Covid-19 cases reported are, in fact, asymptomatic, she noted.

Another key symptom is the loss of smell or taste, said Dr Ling.

This was observed for three of the cases in the cluster linked to the police para-veterinarian.

The cluster emerged after the 32-year-old para-veterinarian working at the Police K-9 Unit at 2 Mowbray Road tested positive on Jan 13. The officer felt feverish after returning home from work on Jan 11.

All his close contacts, including family members and co-workers, are now in quarantine.

The 25 police dogs which were in contact with him in the 14 days before the onset of his symptoms were cleared of Covid-19, said the police last Friday.

The para-vet's wife was the second case added to the cluster last Saturday. The 28-year-old Singapore Prison Service staff officer developed acute respiratory symptoms last Thursday. She did not interact with prison inmates and mainly worked from home.

The third and fourth cases were linked to the cluster on Sunday.

A 44-year-old police administrative officer who also works at 2 Mowbray Road had developed a dry throat on Jan 7 but did not seek medical treatment. As part of special testing operations, he was tested last Friday and a positive result came back the next day.

His family member, also 44 and a homemaker, did not seek medical treatment despite having a fever and chills on Jan 9, and losing her sense of smell and taste on Jan 13.

Upon tracing the police administrative officer's contacts, MOH contacted her last Saturday and she was tested after reporting her symptoms.

Two more family members of the police administrative officer were added to the cluster on Monday, including his wife.

Both did not see a doctor despite experiencing symptoms such as a runny nose, sore throat, diarrhoea as well as losing a sense of taste and smell.

They were tested after reporting symptoms last Saturday and were confirmed positive the next day.

The emergence of this community cluster has raised concerns about complacency setting in.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin on Monday warned Singapore residents against complacency during the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.

"In many Western countries, extensive celebrations, without paying attention to safe measures, during the Christmas holiday periods also exacerbated the situation," he said in a Facebook post.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chairman of the ministerial task force on Covid-19, had urged similar caution as new community cases emerge.

It was a point reiterated by medical experts, who said precautions are needed, as the pandemic is not over yet.

Said Dr Ling: "This is a reminder to us all that Covid-19 is still out there, so don't let up on the masking, hand hygiene and social distancing measures."