Coronavirus outbreak

S'pore has to be prepared for more imported Covid-19 cases: Gan

The multi-ministry task force on the coronavirus, including (from left) the Health Ministry's director for medical services Kenneth Mak, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong and task force co-chair Lawrence Wong, giving updates at a press conference yest
The multi-ministry task force on the coronavirus, including (from left) the Health Ministry's director for medical services Kenneth Mak, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong and task force co-chair Lawrence Wong, giving updates at a press conference yesterday. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Singapore must be prepared for more Covid-19 cases as the global spread of the disease increases the risk of importation, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

"While we have seen the number of new cases here in Singapore remain low over the last few days, we must remain aware that the global situation remains dynamic and we cannot afford to be complacent," he said at a press conference.

Noting that there has been a surge in the number of cases worldwide, Mr Gan, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force to tackle the coronavirus, said: "This means the risk of importation remains serious and imminent."

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Outside China, the coronavirus has surfaced in more than 30 nations, with major outbreaks surfacing in South Korea, Italy and Iran.

In Italy, which is the worst hit in Europe, more than 200 people have been infected and seven people have died, prompting some areas to shut schools and ban public events.

With the numbers rising quickly to hit almost 1,000 in South Korea, Singapore yesterday announced it would bar visitors from Daegu city and Cheongdo county - the two most affected areas in the country. Similar restrictions exist for travellers from China.

On whether there are plans to do the same for Italy, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said: "We are very mindful of the risk from Italy as well. So it's on our radar screen."

He noted, though, that unlike China and South Korea, there are fewer flights from the affected regions in Italy to Singapore.

Even as Singapore continues to do everything possible to contain the spread of the virus, "it is a big unknown" how the situation will evolve in other countries, he cautioned. "There might well be a scenario where the virus becomes endemic in the human population and we have to learn how to live with it, take the necessary precautions."

Mr Gan and Mr Wong said that as the situation evolves, Singapore will continue to monitor and reassess the approach and measures.

On Feb 7, Singapore raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level from yellow to orange, amid indications that the disease was spreading in the community.

Asked if going back to yellow was a possibility, Mr Gan said: "Whether we move the Dorscon level is not a checklist where we tick off everything. It is a judgment call, you take into account the factors, the situation, what other countries are doing. At the same time, we have enough flexibility to adjust many of our measures even in Dorscon orange."

In its latest update yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed one new Covid-19 case in Singapore, taking the total number of infections here to 91. The latest case is linked to a previous one.

MOH also announced that a further five cases were discharged, taking the total number of recovered cases to 58. Of the 33 confirmed cases who are still in hospital, most are stable or improving, but seven are in critical condition.

As Singapore keeps up its efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus within its borders and to monitor global developments, work with its closest neighbour will continue, said Mr Gan.

On Feb 11, Singapore and Malaysia announced that a joint working group will be set up to strengthen cooperation in tackling the spread of the coronavirus.

Yesterday, Mr Gan said the work will go on. "At an official level, we are scheduled to meet shortly. This work will continue regardless of the political situation."

Malaysia's ruling coalition collapsed on Monday, followed by the resignation of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has been appointed interim PM.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2020, with the headline S'pore has to be prepared for more imported Covid-19 cases: Gan. Subscribe