Wuhan virus: The science

Fighting the Wuhan virus: How Singapore tackled previous epidemics

Cleaners disinfecting the floors of all the classrooms at Bowen Secondary School in an attempt to reduce the risk of infection during the Sars outbreak in Singapore, which lasted from March to July 2003.
Cleaners disinfecting the floors of all the classrooms at Bowen Secondary School in an attempt to reduce the risk of infection during the Sars outbreak in Singapore, which lasted from March to July 2003.ST FILE PHOTO
Fogging being done in a precinct at Bishan, after the Health Ministry confirmed the localised community spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito, on Aug 28, 2016. Passengers arriving from Qatar walking past a the
A woman getting the H1N1 vaccination after reports of a global outbreak of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus in April 2009. The virus ultimately proved to be milder than initially feared.ST FILE PHOTO
Fogging being done in a precinct at Bishan, after the Health Ministry confirmed the localised community spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito, on Aug 28, 2016. Passengers arriving from Qatar walking past a the
Passengers arriving from Qatar walking past a thermal scanner at Changi Airport in May 2014, as Singapore started screening air travellers from Middle East countries affected by the Middle East respiratory syndrome. ST FILE PHOTO
Fogging being done in a precinct at Bishan, after the Health Ministry confirmed the localised community spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito, on Aug 28, 2016. Passengers arriving from Qatar walking past a the
Fogging being done in a precinct at Bishan, after the Health Ministry confirmed the localised community spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito, on Aug 28, 2016. ST FILE PHOTO

Sars (2003)

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in Singapore lasted from March to July 2003. The Ministry of Health (MOH) formed a task force to handle the situation on March 15, 2003.

Temperature screening was implemented in schools, workplaces and medical institutions, as well as at border checkpoints. Primary and secondary schools, junior colleges and centralised institutes were shut from late March to mid-April. Home quarantine orders were issued to hundreds.

A dedicated Sars channel was set up to broadcast news and information relating to the disease. It ran from May 21 to July 9, when all countries were taken off the World Health Organisation's (WHO) Sars list.

The outbreak ultimately infected 238 people here and killed 33, including healthcare workers.

H1N1 PANDEMIC (2009)

In response to reports of a global outbreak of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus in April 2009, MOH implemented several precautionary measures. These included contact tracing, home quarantine orders, travel and public health advisories, treatment and vaccination.

Temperature screening at schools, stringent border checks and the screening of visitors to hospitals for flu-like symptoms also took place. The Government ordered a million doses of H1N1 vaccine.

Singapore reported its first case in late May and the first of over 20 H1N1-related deaths here occurred in mid-July, but the virus ultimately proved to be milder than initially feared.

 
 

MERS CORONAVIRUS (2015)

An outbreak of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) was reported in South Korea in 2015. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

In response, passengers arriving at Changi Airport from the Middle East and South Korea had their temperatures taken. Hospitals began testing patients with respiratory symptoms who had been to the affected countries. MOH also issued health advisories for travellers arriving from or going to Mers-affected countries.

In 2015, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong revealed that 62 suspected cases were investigated but all tested negative for the virus.

ZIKA (2016)

MOH confirmed the localised community spread of the Zika virus, which is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito, on Aug 28, 2016. By the end of the year, there were over 450 confirmed cases.

The virus causes relatively mild or even no symptoms but can be passed from a pregnant woman to her foetus, causing microcephaly and other birth defects.

Singapore's response was praised by the WHO.

 

Scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) invented a cheap test kit that can check for the dengue, chikungunya and Zika viruses in just two hours. The National Public Health Laboratory and A*Star also sequenced the genome of the Zika virus.

Several MPs distributed mosquito repellent and information posters to residents. Government agencies, grassroots leaders and volunteer groups also started educational campaigns.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 02, 2020, with the headline 'How Singapore tackled previous epidemics'. Print Edition | Subscribe