Is it safe to travel during school holidays amid coronavirus outbreak?

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Visitors at the departure hall of Changi Airport Terminal Two on Feb 21, 2020.
Visitors at the departure hall of Changi Airport Terminal Two on Feb 21, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

At a press conference yesterday, the multi-ministry task force set up to battle the spread of Covid-19 fielded questions on a variety of topics. Here are some of them.

Q: The World Health Organisation said the mortality rate for Covid-19 is 3.4 per cent, higher than previous estimates of about 2 per cent made by scientists. Is this worrying?

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health:

At this point, there is nothing to suggest that the virus has changed in its virulence. Those figures have continued to change as more information and data - in terms of the numbers of cases in countries - become available.

The high fatality rate that was reported previously was in China, in the Hubei province and, specifically, in Wuhan. But within the rest of China, the mortality rate is in fact much lower. And perhaps that is a more accurate figure than looking at the virus' behaviour.

But there have been also several countries that reported outbreaks.

Because some individuals within those countries are presenting (symptoms) late, perhaps even in hospitals, we may have been poorly resourced to be able to treat these conditions.

Therefore, it may not be surprising to see higher mortality rates in those countries, but that drives the overall figure up.

I think, over time, you will see that number continue to change.

We are not fussed too much by whether or not that number changes over time because we understand that this is in part driven by the statistics that are available.

But what is important perhaps is to focus on our own local efforts to make sure that we detect as early as possible every case that comes on, that we are able to treat them, and that we are also effectively able to ring-fence and isolate close contacts so as to prevent further spread.

Q: Is there a tipping point where Singapore decides it no longer needs to rely on border controls? And if social norms are able to change here, will that become the first line of defence?

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force:

I would say that (social norms) are in fact the first line of defence, rather than border controls.

Even if you have restrictions on travel, you still have Singaporeans coming back; you cannot stop them from coming back to Singapore. Therefore, personal hygiene is the most important.

Q: With the March school holidays just around the corner, should people still travel?

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chairman of the task force:

We have travel advisories already in place for non-essential travel to various countries. The situation may change between now and the holidays, and new information may emerge, and if so, we will put out the travel advisories as necessary.

 
 
 
 

If there are no travel advisories, it is really up to the individuals to decide if they wish to go overseas, and if they do, to make sure they take all the necessary precautions - be vigilant, be mindful, try to avoid large crowds, and avoid contact with people around you who may seem unwell.

If the virus continues to spread and the number of cases continues to rise in Singapore, we do have other actions, measures and tools we can make use of.

Aside from the social responsibility we emphasise, we could consider more social distancing measures at some stage, be it at schools or workplaces.

It is not going to stop the virus, but I think slowing down the spread and flattening the epidemic curve is very useful, because we avoid overwhelming our hospitals with a surge of cases, and we buy ourselves time - time that will be very useful because over the longer term, we may have better treatment, better anti-viral drugs and, eventually, a vaccine may be in place.

Correction note: A quote by AP Kenneth Mak has been edited for accuracy.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2020, with the headline 'Is it safe to travel during school holidays?'. Print Edition | Subscribe