Wuhan virus: Why it is still safe to attend events with large crowds

A crowd at Funan mall in City hall in a photo taken on June 28, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

Given the threat of the Wuhan virus, people are asking about the best ways to protect themselves. Senior Health Correspondent Salma Khalik speaks to experts about this:

Q Is it still safe to attend events where there are large crowds, and should one wear a mask while doing so?

A Essentially, the answer is, carry on with life as normal.

There is currently no community spread of the Wuhan virus in Singapore, so there is no need to take extraordinary measures.

So, it is all right to attend events where lots of people are expected.

According to the Ministry of Health's (MOH) definition, people who are at risk of catching the virus from a confirmed case are those who had spent at least 30 minutes within 2m of the sick person.

If you are at a crowded event and someone near you coughs and sneezes without a mask, the best thing to do is to move away.

That person is unlikely to have the Wuhan virus because all confirmed cases so far are visitors from Wuhan, but moving away could prevent you from catching whatever bug that person has.

Q Don't I need a mask to protect myself against those who are sick who do not cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze?

A A surgical mask, which is what the authorities are recommending, is not good enough to stop viruses from going through.

It is better at preventing the spread of germs when worn by the person who is sick. Hence, the recommendation is for those who are sick to wear masks when in public places so that they do not pass their germs to others.

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MOH officials say there really is no need to don masks when travelling on public transport like the MRT unless you are sick.

Professor Chia Kee Seng of the School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore agreed: "If there is no or little community transmission, wearing masks on public transport is unnecessary.

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He also cautions that the nose and mouth are not the only route of entry for a virus. The eyes are also a route of entry.

As people tend to use their hands to wipe their eyes or touch their faces, he stressed that it is important to wash the hands frequently.

This should be done not just before eating and after going to the toilet, but also after touching animals, garbage or even things such as supermarket trolley handles, where others might have left their germs.

Water and soap is the best, but failing that, hand sanitisers help.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2020, with the headline Why it is still safe to attend events with large crowds in wake of outbreak. Subscribe