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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Wuhan virus: The small-minded and the big-hearted

These are the people you should be venting your spleen on:

1. Landlords who turf out their Chinese national tenants who have to take the mandatory leave of absence.

2. Those who want their neighbours who are stuck at home under quarantine orders moved out to Government-requisitioned housing.

3. Employers who want their employees to work even when they are sick.

4. Service providers who deny service to Chinese nationals.

5. Malicious malcontents who delight in sending messages telling people places they should avoid on pain of contracting the Wuhan.

I found myself tsk tsk-ing when National Development Minister Lawrence Wong recited the above list of the badly behaved. I would have added another group: Idiots who wear the mask because they are sick, but lift them from the face to cough or sneeze.

But other than getting upset with the intolerant and the ignorant, I felt pretty proud of the way the Singapore system (and yes, the G) has handled the Wuhan crisis so far. We have definitely learnt from the SARS days and even instituted some new processes, like the 14-day Leave of Absence mandated to those who had just returned from travel to China. This is a step below Quarantine Orders, which basically cage you in  for a period of time because you are deemed to have a higher chance of contracting the virus.

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I recall how Parliament had to be hastily convened during those Sars days to legislate quarantine orders which include penalties like a fine or jail term if contravened.  I recall how surveillance was introduced halfway to make sure they stayed indoors during Sars. Now, all processes have been made an SOP, like the daily checks on suspect cases and close contacts. Like the stockpile of masks. Like how 100 isolation beds had been so quickly added to what the healthcare service now had. Rather than the chalets that the G had to hastily put up as quarantine quarters at that time, we’re told that university dormitories had been already been earmarked for use.  We even have a MaskGoWhere website and a WhatsApp service that 300,000 have signed up to.

I am quite sure that if there is community transmission in Singapore (touch wood), there’s a plan in some drawer somewhere that will be whipped out and used. Close areas? Suspend schools?  We’ll do it in the typical Singapore way, efficiently and effectively.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce, was plain and direct in his ministerial statement. His answers to MPs were a model of clarity. His co-chair Health minister Gan Kim Yong was rather more circumlocutious, ending his speech with what seemed like a call to arms.

Anyway, some light was shed.

For me, these points stood out:

  1. The Wuhan virus is spread via droplets. That’s why people should cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze. It is NOT air-borne, like chicken pox. At least there’s no evidence of this. But you can’t discount idiots who sneeze onto furniture or whatever is in front of their face. Those virus-filled droplets can live on for a few days and woe betide anyone who touches the surface. Hence, wash your hands often and stop touching your face. The eyes and nose are most susceptible to the virus.
  2. While the virus might spread during the incubation when the victim shows no symptoms, it is most virulent when the person actually gets sick and starts showing signs of it. So let’s put this scare about asymptomatic transmission in perspective.
  3. Remember that the premises where an infected person had gone to or lived in would have been thoroughly cleaned and sanitised under the supervision of NEA officers. So don’t be silly about avoiding certain places because a WhatsApp message says so.
  4. That mask that everyone is talking about is not for you to protect yourself from others. It’s to protect others from you if you’re sick. In fact, you’ll keep adjusting your mask if you put it on. So why not just keep washing your hands?

Quite a lot of figures were produced but I’ll just report some that I found intriguing.

  1. As of 8am today, Singapore recorded 18 confirmed cases (all of whom are recovering), 240 suspect cases who tested negative (that is, cleared) and 43 more whose results are pending.
  2. Right now, 524 people are being quarantined. Some 222 people are in G quarantine quarters while the rest are at home.
  3. About 14,000 Chinese nationals visit Singapore everyday and this has come down by some 80 per cent. Because businesses who depend on tourists will probably be weeping, expect a package of measures to help them when the Budget statement is announced on Feb 18.
  4. About 140 Singaporeans are in Wuhan.

I suppose some people will still say some measures were “too little, too late”. There are those who berate the G for not closing the door on visitors from China earlier. In fact, in the space of one week, three big decisions were made regarding travellers that cover not just the Chinese but anyone with a travel history to China. This is what effective government is about, taking steps when warranted rather than a knee-jerk reaction in response to irrational fears.

At least two ministers have used this phrase “we are bigger than this”. It bears repeating. How small-minded we must be to turf out people onto the streets where they might infect others if they actually fall sick – but we keep our homes safe. How selfish we are when we suddenly want that neighbour far away from us when we should be asking them if they need help with food or provisions. How absolutely stupid to tarnish a whole race of people, and a whole country, under the cover of being “cautious” instead of acknowledging our own prejudices.

The flip side, however, is that there are many more people who aren’t so narrow-minded and petty, and whose generosity of heart is worthy of admiration. I am not just talking about the front line emergency services for whom care is a duty. I am talking about volunteers who do temperature checks or ferry provisions to those who have been quarantined. About the pilot, crew and foreign ministry officials who flew the 92 Singaporeans home from Wuhan. That was going beyond the call of duty.



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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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