askST: Should we avoid places where a person suspected of having the coronavirus has been to?

People wearing masks outside Block 5 at the Singapore General Hospital on Jan 24, 2020.
People wearing masks outside Block 5 at the Singapore General Hospital on Jan 24, 2020.ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

A WhatsApp message has been making the round, telling residents to avoid certain locations in Woodlands purportedly due to a suspected case of the Wuhan virus there.

More than 80 readers have written in to askST to ask whether this is true.

While a patient who was suspected to have the Wuhan virus was indeed identified at the Raffles Medical clinic in Causeway Point and taken to the hospital on Monday (Jan 27), senior health correspondent Salma Khalik explains why there is no reason to heed messages such as the one telling people to avoid parts of Woodlands.

Q: Do we need to avoid places, including clinics, where suspected cases of people with the Wuhan virus have been to?

A: No, you do not. First, these are suspected, and not confirmed, cases.

Even if they are confirmed, it generally requires prolonged exposure to the infected person for you to catch the bug.

Such prolonged exposure, or close contact, with an infected person is defined by the health authorities as at least 30 minutes within 2m of the person.

At places where an infected person has been, by the time the information is known, the person would also no longer be there.

Q: What about the furniture the infected person had come into contact with? Would the virus be lingering on it? Or what if you had sat next to him for some time at the clinic?

 

A: All general practitioner (GP) clinics have been told what to do when a patient suspected of having the Wuhan virus visits.

They have to follow a protocol which includes putting the person into isolation and cleaning any surface he has come into contact with.

However, whether it is a place where a confirmed patient was at, or any other place, it is good practice to wash your hands frequently, especially after going to the toilet and before eating.

It is also a good idea to clean your hands after touching public transport hand-holds, using a supermarket trolley or basket, as these are used by many people, some of whom may be spreading germs.

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