Wuhan virus: MOH sets up multi-ministry task force, advises against non-essential trips to Wuhan

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, alongside Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong, announces the launch of the multi-ministry task force to tackle the Wuhan virus on Jan 22, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Passengers arriving at Changi Airport Terminal 3 from a Hangzhou flight going through a thermal scanner on Jan 22, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - A multi-ministry task force is being set up to tackle the mystery Wuhan virus, should it hit Singapore shores.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) made this announcement on Wednesday (Jan 22) and also advised people to avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan as the situation worsens in China and new cases surface farther afield.

This comes ahead of the Chinese New Year weekend, when a large number of travellers are expected to fly to and from China, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.

Three new suspected cases have also been detected in Singapore and are under investigation, the ministry said. Seven others have been cleared.

The three new cases involve two children aged three and four who are Chinese nationals, and a 78-year-old female Singapore resident.

The MOH said the cases have been admitted for further assessment and treatment, and isolated as a precautionary measure. They are in stable condition.

In China, nine people have died so far from the disease, and the number of cases rose to 450 on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, at least nine people outside of China were confirmed to be infected with the disease.

The MOH said that all travellers should monitor their health closely for two weeks upon return to Singapore and seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell.

They should also inform their doctor of their travel history.

Those who have fever or symptoms such as cough and runny nose should wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of their visit.

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Speaking to reporters, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said he will co-chair the multi-ministry committee with National Development and Second Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong.

The MOH previously stepped up its precautionary measures to prevent transmission of the virus, following a confirmation by China's health commission on Monday that the coronavirus responsible for causing pneumonia in Wuhan can be transmitted between people.

Those with pneumonia who have travelled to any part of China within two weeks of showing symptoms will be isolated. The symptoms include fever, coughing and breathing difficulties.

A health advisory pamphlet distributed to passengers on Jan 22, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Those with acute respiratory infection who have been to any hospital in China within two weeks of showing symptoms, which may include a sore throat or body aches, will also be isolated.

All public hospital emergency departments here have been put on "outbreak response mode", with all patients screened, and those with fever and travel history isolated.

All general practice doctors have also been told what to look out for and given a number to call if there are any patients suspected of having the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) was first alerted to the virus on Dec 31 last year, with Chinese authorities reporting a string of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan.

A seafood market suspected to be at the centre of the outbreak was identified by the United States' Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and closed on Jan 1.

On Jan 9, the WHO announced that the Wuhan outbreak is caused by a previously unknown type of coronavirus.

Coronaviruses are a broad family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more serious illnesses like severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars).

The virus spread beyond China's borders on Jan 13, with a Chinese woman in Thailand falling ill.

Cases of the virus were subsequently confirmed in Japan and South Korea.

On Jan 21, the first case of the coronavirus was reported in the US.

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