Parliament: MOH gets boost in infectious disease surveillance

The Ministry of Health will also be able to order healthcare facilities and laboratories to submit samples or information for public health surveillance and research for a specified period of time.
The Ministry of Health will also be able to order healthcare facilities and laboratories to submit samples or information for public health surveillance and research for a specified period of time.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will be able to remotely monitor people who may have infectious diseases, with the passing of the Infectious Diseases (Amendment) Bill yesterday.

Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said this would be made possible by technological advancements.

Such monitoring will be allowed with a new definition of surveillance given in the Bill.

The new law will also allow MOH to order healthcare facilities and laboratories to submit samples or information for public health surveillance and research for a specified period of time. Currently, the ministry has to issue a new legal order each time it collects a sample.

The MOH can also share data collected, including individually identifiable information and samples, with third-party researchers. Other changes allow Singapore to turn away non-citizen travellers who have not been vaccinated against diseases like yellow fever, and monitor travellers leaving Singapore to prevent exporting diseases in an outbreak here.

Controls on the movements and activities of those at risk of transmitting infectious diseases have also been changed.

Those with a low risk can go to work under specified conditions that reduce their risk of infecting others. For example, a food handler with a food-borne disease may be allowed to do tasks that do not involve contact with food, Dr Lam said.

 
 

Those with a high risk can be detained by health officers, have their movements restricted and may not be allowed to leave the country if they do not comply with public health measures.

Eight MPs spoke during the debate, asking about the scope of the enhanced powers and the procedures for exercising them.

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said safeguards are needed to ensure the Bill's powers do not go unchecked.

He asked if there would be a maximum number of consecutive days that people could be subjected to medical surveillance or stop-work orders.

Dr Lam said the MOH would consider various factors when deciding on the extent and duration of public health measures.

"For example, the number of days a person is subjected to surveillance or quarantine is dependent on the disease's incubation period," he added.

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) asked how the need to disclose individually identifiable information would be determined.

Dr Lam said the data "will be used only if the director of medical services is satisfied the research can only be carried out with such identifiable information or samples."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2019, with the headline 'MOH gets boost in infectious disease surveillance'. Print Edition | Subscribe