Coronavirus outbreak

How to protect against infection

A lift being cleaned thoroughly at a block in Tampines. Using a pen or tissue to press the lift button is one of the precautionary measures suggested.
A lift being cleaned thoroughly at a block in Tampines. Using a pen or tissue to press the lift button is one of the precautionary measures suggested.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Q How can I protect myself from infection?

A This coronavirus originated in Wuhan and has infected more than 24,000 people and caused nearly 500 deaths.

Now that local transmission is confirmed in Singapore, some people may get increasingly worried about getting infected, even though there is no widespread transmission.

Professor Wang Lin Fa, director of the emerging infectious disease programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, said that the risk of infection in Singapore is considered very low.

Still, for those who prefer to take every precaution possible, here are some tips to consider:

USE A PEN TO PRESS LIFT BUTTONS

This is a tip Prof Wang said he picked up from social media: Get a pen with a cap and remove the ink cartridge before using it. After using it, cap it and put it in your bag.

If someone used the lift 30 seconds or a minute before you, there is a "low chance" of getting an infection from breathing in the air, but a much higher chance of getting it from touching the lift buttons, he said.

If you do not have a pen, use a piece of tissue and throw it away.

Prof Wang said he saw a photo on social media that showed a tissue box being placed at a lift lobby in a building in China for people to do exactly that.

VENTILATE YOUR CAR, TOILET AND FLAT

Keep shared spaces well-ventilated to protect yourself, assuming that there is a risk of infection in these places. "Let the (circulating) air blow the virus out into the open and the droplet will settle onto the ground and (the virus will) die off," said Prof Wang.

 
 

This is why people should ventilate their cars if they ferried a passenger who may have the infection. If this passenger coughed in the car and you then ventilate it for two to three minutes, you should get enough circulation to clear the air.

The droplets cannot stay in the air for very long if it is a fully ventilated environment, he said.

WASH YOUR HANDS

At the end of the day, what is most important is still hand hygiene, and you do have to wash your hands frequently and properly, experts said.

Do this and protect your face, said infectious disease expert Leong Hoe Nam.

"The virus, even if it is on my hands, cannot penetrate through my intact skin," Dr Leong said.

"But the virus can go to my eyes through my contaminated hands. Hence, the mantra: My face is sacred. Protect the face, and it helps."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2020, with the headline 'How to protect against infection'. Print Edition | Subscribe