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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Wuhan virus: Exercising common sense

And so it begins.

After two days of “no news is good news”, we have six people down with the virus, bringing the total to 24. What’s worse is that four of them seemed to have caught it “locally”. The focal point seems to be a medicine shop in Jalan Besar that is patronised by Chinese visitors. Two of them are shop staff and the third is a tour guide. The fourth is an Indonesian who is one of the shop staff’s domestic helper. She seems to have contracted the virus through her ma’am. That last case seems significant to me. It’s secondary transmission and one would have to hope that the family is all right and under quarantine. Likewise the families of the other Singaporeans.

One also has to hope that the G has locked down the previous wanderings of the tour group, some members of whom seemed to be source of the infection. They must have stayed somewhere and gone to some places while they were here. This cluster must be thoroughly ring-fenced so that the infection spread is contained. You can’t have an infected someone going to another place and starting a new cluster. That’s when you have community spread. So, touch wood, it’s just one cluster so far.

This is where we have to trust the authorities’ ability to do contact tracing and to hope that those who have been “contacted” do not panic unduly when they are suddenly served with quarantine orders. Nor should we panic when see an ambulance, which hopefully, doesn’t have its siren on when it’s simply ferrying a suspect patient for a check-up. (During Sars, ambulance drivers caused panic by simply blaring the sirens causing whole neighbourhoods to start talking themselves into a frenzy.)

We will probably start to see more places being wiped down and disinfected and more temperature screening procedures in place. We shouldn’t be afraid but rather glad that organisations are taking precautionary measures seriously. Likewise, when more measures restricting movement are announced, like cancellation of mass gatherings, let’s just take it in our stride. Sure, we would want our money refunded if we’ve already paid for tickets, but that’s a less serious issue than containing the spread of the virus.

I’m trying to see the silver lining in these dark clouds looming above us. I’ll point out just one: no one here has died. (I suppose I should include ‘yet’) This is a lot different from the Sars period when it seemed that people were dropping like flies. Because no one knew how infectious the Sars virus was, patients had their relatives and friends come a-calling on them while they were in hospital. Some Sars victims had to bear with the pain of infecting, and then killing, loved ones. Doctors and nurses were also inadequately protected. Being in the frontline, it is right that more of those much sought after masks be reserved for them as the G says would be the case.

Unlike Sars when doctors were befuddled about the nature of the virus, we’ve got diagnostic kits which means we can take action much faster once a person is infected. In face, some of the patients seem to be recovering and one has actually been discharged. We’re told that we can expect more discharges. And like how Singapore pioneered the making of thermal imaging machines during Sars, we now seem to be taking another novel  measure : using HIV drugs to treat patients, which seem to be producing results.

We should cheer this.

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In fact, we might want to view the virus in a different way. It’s a contagious disease. Period. No one wants to get sick, whether from the common cough and cold, flu or fever. No one wants to get sick with the virus either. If we take this period in our stride, make a habit of taking more personal hygiene measures and make some temporary pre-cautionary measures permanent, then we’d worry less about going about our lives normally.

Some practices that started in the Sars period have continued – in a somewhat sporadic manner though. Hand disinfecting solutions used to be a ubiquitous amenity for the public, but it was really only continued in hospitals and clinics. Companies would have to start chalking down such free dispensers as business cost.

Temperature-taking was one common operational measure then that later seemed to be used only as a “drill” in schools.  Feverish patients  looking for treatment at polyclinics were quickly isolated then. Now you can sit beside someone who looks clearly unwell while you’re there to get your broken bone looked at.  It seems to me that anyone with any contagious anything should be screened at the clinic door and kept apart from other patients. Not just for now, but as a regular SOP. There is still some e-learning practised in schools, but it looks like it needs to be “regularised” for all subjects – and for all levels.  I also think that cleaning guidelines should given to all establishments to be adhered to at all times. I really want to know, for example, how many times MRT staff clean the cabins, especially the poles which commuters hang on to.

Doubtless, there will be those who lament the efficacy of such inconvenient measures. I can just hear parents complain about having to take time off work to be with their children at home for e-learning. There will be those who argue that even those with no fever could be infected, so what’s the point of the fever checks? Businesses will also grumble about costs.

I suppose it has to do with making us get used to taking personality responsibility for our health – not just because we don’t want to get sick or also not to sicken others. It’s also to make us  exercise the uncommon sense of staying home when sick. In fact, when I see anyone in a mask these days, especially office workers at lunch-time, I keep wondering why they are even at work.

Ministers keep talking about being prepared for the long haul. I think it’s more about gearing up for a new normal. It’s like getting prepared for a terrorist attack – the when, not if, mantra that our security forces have come up with. No one cares now that bags have to be screened and even checked at official buildings or at big gatherings. Malls have been told to instal similar screening devices – and not just those which beep loudly to catch shop-lifters.  While reception and security offices might seem officious in requesting personal details when you want to enter a secure building, it is better to keep cool and co-operate, as I myself have begun to acknowledge.

There’s a reason for trying to live as normally as possible. It might sound churlish to say so but even while we are concerned about public health, we need to keep our economy going. Calls to ban every single traveller would put a brake on any business that depends on tourists. Footfall has already, well, fallen. I’m sure that some businesses are already struggling to maintain their bottom-lines. Those who deride the G for thinking about the business-side of things need to remember that dealing with a public health crisis requires strategies not just on the health front, but practices that make sure we won’t be completely laid low when the scare has passed, or if the virus is acknowledged as something that is here to stay.

We’ll have to take each day as it comes. The virus may well mutate and become more lethal in which case we will have to move from the current yellow to orange alert. We just have to hope that this won’t happen.

In the meantime, I repeat, keep calm and follow instructions.

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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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