Singapore's infectious diseases centre staff trained, prepared for outbreaks like Wuhan virus

Staff at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Jan 31, 2020.
Staff at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Jan 31, 2020.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
A view of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Feb 2, 2020.
A view of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Feb 2, 2020.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Even as the 2019-nCoV outbreak has kept the staff at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) busy, they are taking it in their stride, having anticipated an outbreak like the current one.

Dr Chia Po Ying, an associate consultant at the department of infectious disease at NCID, said the work now is similar to the time before the Wuhan virus outbreak, but the workload is heavier as Singapore now has 18 cases, and a majority of the patients are being cared for at NCID.

She was recalled to work on the third day of Chinese New Year, but said such situations are to be expected as the number of cases rise.

Her team member, senior staff nurse Benjamin Low, said he and his colleagues go for courses regularly to refresh their skills so that when an outbreak happens, they are prepared.

He added one noticeable difference is that the staff have been wearing the personal protective equipment more often than before. They do this each time they attend to patients, whether it is to take their vital signs like their temperature or to serve them food, and they help one another to make sure the gear is worn properly.

Said Dr Chia: We are front-line (staff) and we are well-versed in all these infection control practices. We are well-trained."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at an event at NCID last Friday that the outbreak was a shock but not a surprise.

He had thanked the front-line staff that day and said that the facility, which was then caring for nine out of 13 confirmed infection cases, has helped boost Singapore's confidence in handling the current situation.

While the novel coronavirus is spreading fast in China and the death toll is rising, Associate Professor Brenda Ang, a senior consultant at the department of infectious diseases at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and NCID, has reason to be calm.

She is a Sars veteran, having worked through the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003.

"When we had a patient who brought back Sars, it was before the world knew that there was such a thing," she said. "Don't worry, we have been through this before."


Nurse manager Imrana Banu Khider Mohamed, who manages a team of 25 healthcare staff, at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Jan 31, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

 
 
 

Nurse manager Imrana Banu Khider Mohamed, who manages a team of 25 healthcare staff, said that she initially felt some fear of the unknown when news first broke about the outbreak.

"But I needed to motivate myself and reassure my staff that we are ready, we are safe, and that there are protocols to handle the situation," she said.

Her job is to screen patients suspected of having the virus, sifting out the high-risk cases for further testing. To do so, she wears an N95 mask and a visor to protect her eyes, as well as gloves and a hospital gown.

"A lot of worried people come in. They may not fit the criteria, but they are still worried," she said.

She added: "Of course, our family and friends are worried for us, but we have to reassure them that we are taking the necessary precautions."

Mr Low, the senior staff nurse, said: "My wife is a nurse and she's not worried... because she has confidence in the way we don our protective gear. If you're not taking shortcuts and if you're following good infection control practices, you are very well protected."

Additional reporting by Linette Lai