Coronavirus outbreak

WHO impressed by how Singapore handles coronavirus outbreak

Republic's efforts in tackling cases and approach in communicating to public win experts' praise

Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, says WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, says WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Singapore's efforts in tackling coronavirus cases and its approach in communicating to the public have won plaudits from experts and observers from around the world.

World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he had spoken on Monday to Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

"We are very impressed with the efforts they are making to find every case, follow up with contacts and stop transmission," said Dr Tedros.

"Singapore is leaving no stone unturned, testing every case of influenza-like illness and pneumonia and, so far, they have not found evidence of community transmission."

Singapore first detected a case of coronavirus on Jan 23 and two weeks later, the Government raised its risk assessment (Dorscon) of the outbreak from yellow to orange.

As of yesterday, the Republic had 84 confirmed coronavirus cases, while a total of 34 patients have been discharged.

Mr Gan said earlier this month that although Singapore has registered "limited transmission" of the virus, it does not constitute widespread community transmission.

According to a Harvard study to identify which locations may potentially have undetected internationally imported cases based on air travel volume estimates from Wuhan, Singapore was found to have identified more imported cases than expected, compared with other locations such as Thailand and Indonesia.

"Singapore lies above the 95 per cent prediction interval (PI), with 12... more reported import cases than expected under our model," said the paper, which has not been peer-reviewed and has been uploaded on medRxiv, an online platform for unpublished health sciences manuscripts.

The researchers said that Thailand has a relatively high air travel volume as compared with all other locations, yet it lies below the 95 per cent PI. "Based on our model, locations whose case counts exceed the 95 per cent PI could be interpreted as having higher case-detection capacity and/or more connection with Wuhan than that captured by available daily air travel volume, such as land transportation," said the Feb 11 report.

Singapore-based Australian journalist Stephen Dziedzic contrasted the Republic's "immense and sophisticated campaign" to contain the coronavirus against some other South-east Asian nations that have struggled to handle the threat.

"When the epidemic first hit, the vast machine of Singapore's public service roared smoothly into life, and it's still running at full throttle," he wrote in The Strategist, the commentary and analysis site of think-tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, while listing the various efforts put in place by the Republic to limit the spread of the virus.

"Even if the bout of panic buying suggests the city-state is slightly more brittle than portrayed in national mythologies, this crisis has still been a powerful reminder of Singapore's formidable capacities."

Singapore leaders, led by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, have taken the lead to allay concerns over the spread of the epidemic.

PM Lee posted a video in three languages on his Facebook page on Feb 8 urging Singaporeans to stay united and resolute, adding that the nation is much better prepared to deal with the situation than it was 17 years ago with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars). His speech was also televised.

He also said the Government would change its approach if the virus became widespread to avoid overwhelming hospitals, adding that he would keep the public "informed every step of the way".

The speech won plaudits from the Philippines' largest entertainment and media conglomerate, ABS-CBN, which praised the 68-year-old for portraying "a picture of eloquent, soothing calm".

"He didn't only urge his citizens to do their part, but acknowledged those already doing theirs," it said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2020, with the headline WHO impressed by how Singapore handles coronavirus outbreak. Subscribe