Wuhan virus: How to keep safe and calm this Chinese New Year

Mask up if you need to: A surgical mask can protect you or your guest if either party has respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose. ST PHOTO: KELLY HUI

Singapore now has three confirmed Wuhan virus cases. To keep safe and calm this festive season, here's what you can do:

Be prepared to welcome your visitors

You can get a bottle of hand sanitiser ready and let your guests use it freely whenever they want. This will allow everyone to keep their hands free as well as allow you to start a conversation on the Wuhan virus, particularly if you have nothing much to talk about.

"It is extremely important to practise good hygiene, especially when interacting with large groups of people - which is bound to happen during festive occasions such as Chinese New Year," said Dr John Cheng, the head of primary care at Healthway Medical Group.

"The use of antibacterial and alcohol-based soaps is recommended, so hand sanitisers also fall under this category and can be a convenient way to ensure our hands are clean."

If you're in need of cash or want to keep hongbao money in your wallet, open your hongbao discreetly, or after your guests leave. If you find old notes in there, remember to practise hand hygiene.

"After coming into contact with frequently exchanged items like money, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with antibacterial soap," said Dr Cheng.

Mask up if you need to

A surgical mask can protect you or your guest if either party has respiratory symptoms such as a cough or runny nose.

If you've dug out your N95 mask, you can put it back, as there's no need to use this type of mask to block the Wuhan virus.

The only time you want to use an N95 during the Chinese New Year break is if you think it will help you fend off questions from nosy relatives: Why did you gain so much weight, when are you going to stop dyeing your hair green or when are you going to have a child?

If you choose to wear your N95 mask in the name of joining the fight against the Wuhan virus, be prepared to suffer for it.

Professor Leo Yee Sin, the executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, said not everybody can tolerate the N95 masks, as they make it very difficult to breathe in. She has said that if you find the N95 mask easy to breathe in and comfortable, you are wearing it the wrong way and it won't protect you against the virus. For respiratory symptoms, surgical masks are recommended.

The people in Wuhan have reportedly been told to wear surgical masks when they are out.

Remember the polite way to manage your germs

You may not be wearing your mask all the time - it would be hard for you to nibble on Chinese New Year goodies with it on.

Hospital staff with face masks walking past a poster in SGH advising people to mask up if they show symptoms of flu and cough. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

So, if you're coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth with a tissue paper, and throw the soiled tissue paper in the rubbish bin immediately. Do not leave the soiled tissue in your cup or bowl or on the table for someone to clear.

If your hands are soiled by respiratory secretions after you cough or sneeze, you must know what to do. It is not enough to just put your hands under the tap for one second. Use soap and water and wash them properly.

If you are feeling unwell, you should restrict your contact with your loved ones to safeguard their health and yours, said Dr Cheng. This could mean refraining from going visiting, he said.

"If you suspect that you may have the virus, you should seek medical attention promptly and inform your doctor of your recent travel history." Those with the virus need to be isolated immediately to prevent the virus from infecting others.

Brush up on your knowledge about the Wuhan virus outbreak

You can say: "The Wuhan virus is a coronavirus. Sars is also caused by a coronavirus." or "The Wuhan virus is a relative of the deadly Sars virus."

Coronaviruses are common in animals such as pigs, bats and camels, but scientists have so far identified only seven, including the Wuhan one and the Sars virus, that have made the jump to humans.

They typically cause mild to moderate respiratory illness, but some, like Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome), can be more severe. Sars infected more than 8,000 people and killed around 800 of them during the 2003 outbreak that started in China.

The person-to-person spread that occurred with Sars and Mers is thought to have happened via respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how influenza and other respiratory pathogens spread, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States.

Some experts have reportedly said the Wuhan virus is not as severe as Sars. It is a new strain, and strains can mutate, so people need to be prepared but not panic.

Take a moment to think about the people in Wuhan

This outbreak is evolving rapidly. Singapore has set up a multi-ministry task force set up to fight the infectious disease and is advising people against travel to Wuhan.

Wuhan has gone into a partial lockdown to control the spread of the virus, which has affected more than 800 people and killed at least 25. The Chinese authorities have suspended planes and trains in and out of the city of 11 million people, as well as buses, subways and ferries.

Online reports said there is general unease there. Residents have also been stripping the shelves bare as they stock up on food before the shops close for Chinese New Year celebrations on Saturday. They have no choice but to welcome the new year with tension in the air.

Yet, we must stay calm and not panic.

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