Wuhan virus: Close contacts to be quarantined as MOH begins contact tracing

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said a China national has tested positive for the Wuhan virus. The 66-year-old man, a Wuhan resident, arrived in Singapore with nine travelling companions on Monday (Jan 20).
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong confirmed Singapore's first case of the Wuhan virus infection yesterday. Those identified as close contacts of the patient will be quarantined and monitored for symptoms for 14 days from their last exposure to the patient
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong confirmed Singapore's first case of the Wuhan virus infection yesterday. Those identified as close contacts of the patient will be quarantined and monitored for symptoms for 14 days from their last exposure to the patient. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Proximity, length of exposure key to determining if one is a close contact

The Ministry of Health has begun contact tracing following the confirmation of Singapore's first case of the Wuhan virus infection yesterday evening.

The patient, a 66-year-old male Chinese national from Wuhan, arrived in Singapore on Monday in a group with nine others.

While in Singapore, he travelled in a chartered car to Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa on Sentosa Island.

He remained in the vicinity of his hotel until he took a taxi, with his son, to Singapore General Hospital's emergency department on Wednesday.

The ministry's initial contact tracing found that, as of last night, eight of the man's travelling companions had left Singapore.

It has contacted the authorities of their destination country.

The ninth person, the man's 37-year-old son, is a suspected case and has been hospitalised.

Meanwhile, further contact tracing has been initiated to identify close contacts of the man confirmed to have the virus.

The ministry's director of communicable diseases, Associate Professor Vernon Lee, clarified that not every person who encountered the man would be considered a close contact.

"To be a close contact, you have to spend a reasonable amount of time in really close proximity - usually around 2m - of the person.

  • How to avoid getting sick

  • Travellers and members of the public should adopt the following precautions at all times, said the Health Ministry:

    • Avoid contact with live animals, including poultry and birds.

    • Avoid eating raw and undercooked meat.

    • Avoid crowded places and close contact with people who are unwell or are showing symptoms of illness.

    • Observe good hygiene.

    • Wash your hands with soap frequently, including before handling food or eating, after going to the toilet or when hands are dirtied after coughing or sneezing.

    • Wear a mask if you are showing respiratory symptoms such as coughing or shortness of breath.

    • Cover your mouth with tissue paper when coughing or sneezing, and throw away the soiled tissue paper in the bin at once.

    • See a doctor if you are feeling sick.

    The Health Ministry also advises travellers to monitor their health closely for two weeks upon their return to Singapore.

    They should see a doctor if they feel unwell and inform the doctor of their travel history.

    They should wear a mask and call the clinic before they visit if they have a fever, cough or shortness of breath.

 
 
 
 
 

"You need distance and time, it is not just casual contact like brushing past or walking by, in a transient kind of moment," he said.

The ministry said approximately 30 people from the flight the man was on - China Southern Airlines Flight CZ351 from Guangzhou - who were sitting two rows in front of him and two rows behind him, will be considered close contacts.

The ministry is also working to find the drivers of the taxi and chartered car which the man was in to determine whether they were close contacts.

It is working with the hotel and the patient as well to determine exactly what he did and where he went, said Prof Lee.

"To go through a detailed history of exactly where the person went, it takes time... our officers are going to interview the patient to get more of these in-depth details.

"We will have to find out from the individual what he did and where he went in the hotel compound, and we will then have to assess if there is anyone who meets the close contact definition," he added.

People who are identified as close contacts will be contacted by the ministry.

They will be quarantined and monitored for symptoms for 14 days from their last exposure to the patient.

Those who develop symptoms will be taken to hospital in a dedicated ambulance for further assessment. Additionally, all other identified contacts with a low risk of being infected will be placed under active surveillance and contacted daily to monitor their health.

Meanwhile, the Singapore authorities are advising people to stay calm but vigilant, and to go about their daily activities while observing good hygiene habits.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force that is tackling the Wuhan virus here, said: "Everyone should stay calm and carry on with your lives... by all means continue with your Chinese New Year celebrations, but stay alert, stay vigilant, and don't let your guard down."


Timeline of S'pore's first confirmed case

JAN 20, 10.40PM

• A 66-year-old tourist from China arrives in Singapore on China Southern Airlines Flight CZ351 from Guangzhou. He is part of a party of 10 people, including his 37-year-old son.

• The man, who is from Wuhan, takes a "chartered car" from the airport to Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort & Spa, according to Health Ministry officials.

• During his stay, he keeps within the vicinity of the hotel.

• He has a sore throat during the flight but not a fever.

JAN 21

• The man develops a fever and a cough.

JAN 22

• He takes a taxi to the Singapore General Hospital emergency department with his son.

• He is screened at 6pm and immediately isolated.

• He is later diagnosed with pneumonia and identified as a suspected case of the Wuhan virus.

JAN 22, 10PM

• Health Ministry is informed of his case.

JAN 23, 6PM

• The man tests positive for the novel coronavirus.

• His son is isolated after showing symptoms of the virus in the afternoon, classified as a suspected case and hospitalised.

• Both men's conditions are stable.

Timeline of likely positive case

A 53-year-old woman from China goes to the accident and emergency department of Tan Tock Seng Hospital and is isolated upon admission.

JAN 23, 3AM

The Health Ministry is informed of her case.

The woman is from Wuhan but is not part of the group of Chinese tourists that included Singapore's first confirmed case.

JAN 23, 6PM

The woman tests positive for the Wuhan virus.

The result of a second confirmatory test was pending at press time.

Her condition is stable.

Aw Cheng Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 24, 2020, with the headline 'Close contacts to be quarantined as MOH begins contact tracing'. Print Edition | Subscribe