Experts advise protective steps against the virus

An advisory from clinic chain Raffles Medical recommends frequent hand washing.
An advisory from clinic chain Raffles Medical recommends frequent hand washing.PHOTO: ST FILE

Health practitioners and experts advised people to protect themselves by maintaining simple, practical hygiene practices such as washing one's hands often.

Clinic chain Raffles Medical said human coronaviruses most commonly spread from an infected person to others through the air by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact, and touching one's mouth, nose, or eyes after touching an object or surface with the virus on it, before washing one's hands.

Although vaccination against influenza does not confer protection, Raffles Medical said people should still get vaccinated, especially if they are planning to travel. "This will prevent you from contracting influenza symptoms and signs that may mislead screening authorities at temperature checkpoints, and result in unnecessary anxiety and delays to your travel," it said.

Dr Edwin Chng, medical director of Parkway Shenton, said travellers should avoid contact with live animals and consumption of raw or undercooked meat and avoid close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness.

Infectious disease experts said Singapore is better prepared to handle an outbreak today. Professor Paul Tambyah, from the department of medicine at the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said: "I think that we should be concerned but there are plenty of measures in place to detect cases, isolate and treat them appropriately in Singapore as well as in the other countries in the region."

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, the programme leader (infectious diseases) at NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said Singapore is far better prepared today than it was during the Sars outbreak 17 years ago, and the impact of the new virus, if it was imported to Singapore, was likely to be negligible. "China's healthcare system and disease outbreak control capabilities have also improved dramatically since 2003 and I believe they will contain the outbreak."

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, advised caution when travelling to China. He said individuals who suspect they might have the virus must come forward to be tested and isolated if necessary.

"The more the virus roams free, the more it adapts to humans and the easier the transmission," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2020, with the headline 'Experts advise protective steps against the virus'. Print Edition | Subscribe