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Parliament: Prepare for significant increase in Covid-19 cases, and for it to stay long term, says Gan Kim Yong

 Singapore now has travel restrictions and advisories, temperature screening, contact tracing and quarantine.

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Updated: March 5, 2020

Singapore needs to prepare to live with Covid-19 for a long time, and brace itself for significantly more new cases here as the number of those infected outside China continues to grow at “alarming rates”, warned Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday (March 5).

“This is worrying, as they pose a high risk of importation of cases into Singapore,” he said. “Even amongst our closest neighbours, the situation is also evolving. Therefore, it is likely that this disease will stay with us for a long time.”

The nation will have to continuously adjust what it is doing to deal with the evolving situation so life can go on while appropriate precautions are put in place, he told Parliament.

As more countries face infections, it will become increasingly difficult to stop the virus at the borders, “as we cannot ban visitors from every country and shut ourselves out from the world”, he said.

Singapore now has travel restrictions and advisories, temperature screening, contact tracing and quarantine.

But every outbreak is different, he said in reply to queries from Workers’ Party chairman Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) and Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) on the effectiveness of strategies so far, and how to better prepare for the future.

He said: “Even as we do our best to learn from each outbreak and prepare for the next, we must always expect the unexpected.”

Measures Singapore takes will need to be adjusted for the possibility of a long-term outbreak, as it may take some time for effective vaccines and treatments to become available.

What is critical is the ability “to mount a swift and effective response”. This will require a whole of Government approach and mobilise the resources of all the relevant agencies.

This way, those fighting the outbreak will be able to “assess, decide and execute our response quickly”, he said.

To preserve the trust between the people and the Government, which is essential in the fight against Covid-19, the minister noted: “It is important to be transparent and share the information we know as soon as possible.”

It is equally crucial to counter and respond decisively to fake news “to avoid diversion of our resources and prevent disruptions to our efforts”, he added.

He also assured WP Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh, that healthcare workers here are trained to deal with the outbreak and have been provided with personal protective equipment so they can stay safe.

Giving an update on the infection so far, Mr Gan said that as of Wednesday, Singapore has identified 112 cases, of which 79 have recovered and been discharged. Of the 33 still in hospital, seven are in critical condition.

Mr Gan praised the SG Clean campaign to raise public hygiene standards for picking up momentum, as that is an important effort in the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.

He thanked Singaporeans for their cooperation and support for the measures implemented “without which our efforts will not be effective”.

To win the fight, everyone has to play their part, and good hygiene practices must become a way of life.

He said: “We must continue the good practices that have proven effective in reducing the spread of infectious diseases – such as staying home when unwell and during the period covered by medical certificate, and practising good personal hygiene. We should also maintain high hygiene standards in our hawker centres and public toilets.

“This will strengthen our collective resilience against Covid-19 as well as other infectious diseases, while going about our daily lives as much as possible.”

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About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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