New infectious disease centre tracks everyone in the building in case of outbreak

The 330-bed  National Centre for Infectious Diseases was designed to handle an outbreak on the scale of Sars.
The 330-bed National Centre for Infectious Diseases was designed to handle an outbreak on the scale of Sars.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - At the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), every patient, visitor and staff member is constantly tracked through electronic eyes.

During a disease outbreak, this real-time location system allows doctors to swiftly identify the people an infected patient came into contact with, where the interaction took place, and for how long.

"The most important thing is the speed," said Professor Leo Yee Sin, the centre's executive director. "Within a very short period of time, we can identify the contacts among different individuals."

The 330-bed NCID was designed to handle an outbreak on the scale of Sars, and replaces the old Communicable Disease Centre along Moulmein Road. The NCID is now housed in a new 14-storey building next to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

On Saturday (Sept 7), the NCID was officially opened by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who highlighted the centre's role in tackling disease outbreaks at the national level.

He noted that new diseases, such as avian influenza, continue to emerge in many parts of the world.

"These infectious diseases challenges remind us that Singapore must continue to strengthen our infectious disease capabilities and capacities, as well as remain vigilant against these threats," Mr Gan said.

He added: "In the short time since it began operations, NCID's ability has been tested in the management of Singapore's first imported case of monkeypox."

The patient was a Nigerian man who had arrived in Singapore on April 28. He was treated at the centre and subsequently recovered.

The centre houses clinical care, public health, and training and research facilities, and began operations late last year (2018).

The NCID will also work with international partners such as the World Health Organisation.

"As infectious diseases are not constrained by borders, a total defence strategy is needed, which includes building community readiness and resilience amongst stakeholders, not just in Singapore but beyond our shores," Mr Gan said.

The centre's real-time location system also sounds the alarm if staff have not sanitised their hands before tending to a patient.

Equipment such as wheelchairs and beds are also tagged, making them easy to locate should they be needed in an emergency.

The centre also features Singapore's first high-level isolation unit, where patients with highly contagious diseases, such as Ebola, will be warded.