Parliament: Why does my doctor give me just 3 days' medical leave, and other coronavirus questions raised by MPs

A nurse checks a patient's temperature at Tentaram Clinic on Feb 13, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The coronavirus dominated Tuesday's (Feb 18) parliamentary session, with around a dozen questions asked by different MPs on the issue. Here are some of them:

Q: WHY DO SOME DOCTORS STILL ONLY GIVE THREE DAYS' MEDICAL LEAVE?

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) asked for clarification on whether it is compulsory for doctors to give five days' medical leave to those who may not have symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection.

A: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that, according to guidelines set out by his ministry, doctors are to exercise judgment and decide how many days worth of medical leave should be given to patients.

"For example, a patient might have already been ill for four days - there's no need to give another five days," he said.

He added that Singaporeans should trust their doctors' judgment.

Q: WHO DECIDES THE DORSCON LEVEL?

Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked whether the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level is determined by an independent committee, and what might lead to it being lowered to yellow.

A: The multi-ministry task force assesses many factors, including inputs from professionals and the community, before making a recommendation about the Dorscon level to the Health Minister, said Mr Gan.

"There may be a time when we will have to adjust Dorscon level downwards to yellow or to green. It takes into account multiple factors: the number of infections that we are seeing, the severity of the diseases and whether or not the infection transmission is able to be controlled... (and) what the situation is globally. Therefore, it's not a straightforward answer," he added.

Q: WHY DO SOME HEALTHCARE WORKERS NOT WEAR MASKS?

Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked why staff in some clinics wear masks, but others do not.

A: "Those who are patient-facing and potentially have a risk of exposure to Covid-19 or other infectious diseases usually will wear masks," said Mr Gan.

On the other hand, those who are less likely to encounter patients with infectious diseases, such as staff in clinics which are used more for health screening, may not need to wear a mask, he added.

"So we leave it to the clinics to make a judgment," said Mr Gan.

Q: DOES OUR 'GOLD STANDARD' OF DETECTION HAVE DRAWBACKS?

Nominated MP Walter Theseira noted that many cases of the virus do not progress to pneumonia, allowing patients to recover without being detected.

He asked if Singapore's "gold standard" in detecting cases could be giving it an undue reputation for risk, as it may not have as many real cases compared with other countries.

A: Mr Gan said: "I think the conclusion is the other way round. The cases that we have determined... are real cases. But other countries may have more cases than what they have reported."

Some of the cases may have mild but persistent symptoms. So, if a patient has not recovered after five days, he will be suspected to have the coronavirus.

Q: HOW MUCH LONGER WILL THE OUTBREAK LAST?

Nominated MP Mohamed Irshad asked how long Singapore might have to deal with the outbreak, and whether it would be possible to return to normal life.

A: In the light of our experience with H1N1, "we do need to expect to live with it for quite a long time", said Mr Gan.

H1N1 infected more than 400,000 here within a year and it is still present in Singapore today, he said.

"That's why even today, we are encouraging Singaporeans to live life as normal as possible. Life must go on - take the necessary precautions but we can continue to live normally as much as possible so that there is no need to have drastic shifts from one way to the other," he said.

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