China doing its best to contain virus and anti-Chinese sentiment is not helpful, says PM Lee

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arriving for the Chinese New Year dinner at his Teck Ghee constituency on Feb 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - China is doing all it can to contain the spread of the Wuhan virus, and Singapore's efforts will complement this, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"I have every confidence that we can overcome the challenge before us," he said.

Speaking at the Chinese New Year dinner at his Teck Ghee constituency on Saturday (Feb 1), PM Lee said that while Singapore was far better prepared to handle the threat than it was during Sars in 2003, China's response had also been more muscular.

"They have imposed their own travel restrictions on their end, including cancelling all outbound tour groups and bringing back Hubei residents from overseas," said PM Lee.

He pointed out that this was a much stronger response from China than when Sars broke out.

Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei in central China, has been identified as the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

"We have confidence that China and other countries will work together to win this battle," said PM Lee.

PM Lee also addressed the recent bubbling of anti-China or anti-Chinese sentiment in many countries, and called it unhelpful to the cause of fighting the outbreak.

"Even though the virus started in Wuhan, it doesn't respect nationality or race - anybody can be infected," he said. "(The outbreak) is a problem that all countries must work together to solve."

He pointed out that a tour group from Singapore, comprising Singaporean Chinese, had been turned away from a tourist attraction in Australia because of anti-Chinese sentiment.

"That is foolish and illogical," PM Lee said in Mandarin.

Singapore's enhanced travel measures that will take effect from today are preemptive and meant "purely to protect our public health", PM Lee said.

All new visitors who have been in mainland China within the past 14 days will be barred from entry or transit in Singapore starting on Saturday, according to measures announced on Friday (Jan 31). Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term-pass holders returning from China will be placed on a leave of absence of 14 days.

"We know that China is doing all it can to contain the spread of the virus. Singapore has been countering the novel coronavirus by isolating suspected cases and conducting contract tracing, once the cases are confirmed," PM Lee said.

Eighteen people here have been infected so far, with two Singaporean having contracted the virus while they were in Wuhan. The rest are China nationals.

He said that Singapore has been able to isolate suspect cases as soon as they are identified, and contain the virus from spreading in the community. "Hopefully, we will be able to maintain this."

One way that residents can help is by ensuring that they have accurate information about the coronavirus as misleading rumours and false information can spread quickly, sparking fear and panic.

"We didn't have social media (during the Sars outbreak)," PM Lee said, urging residents to verify hearsay before they pass them on.

Rumours can easily amplify anxieties, making it more difficult for people to get the correct information, he added.

The Government will release information as soon as it can on the Health Ministry's website and to the media, PM Lee said.

PM Lee reassured Singaporeans who have yet to buy face masks that the Government has ensured that each household is entitled to four masks.

"We know that some of you are worried as you could not buy your own masks," he said, adding that household members can collect their masks at a stipulated time from residents' committees and community centres and clubs.

Residents can also keep healthy by taking care of their personal hygiene, including regular hand washing, PM Lee.

He urged people with fever and cold symptoms to wear a mask to see a doctor.

"But if you are healthy, with no signs of falling sick, wearing a mask is unnecessary, according to doctors," he added.

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