Friday, 12 June 2015

Be prepared to deal with MERS in Singapore: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Inevitable that virus will spread to Republic, he says
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2015

IT IS "a matter of time" before the first case of Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is reported here, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

And when it does arrive, Singaporeans must be physically and mentally prepared to deal with the virus and prevent its spread.

Mr Lee and his wife Ho Ching were visiting Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) - the designated isolation centre for suspected and confirmed MERS cases - to observe emergency preparedness measures there.

"I want to be quite sure that our medical facilities, our medical staff, our hospitals... are ready; they know how to deal with it, they don't fumble," Mr Lee said. "And we can contain it, put a stop to the disease in Singapore as quickly as we can."

He pointed to the close ties between Singapore and South Korea as a major risk factor.

"Every month, we have about 40,000 visitors (from South Korea) and during a holiday month like June, a lot of families go to Korea on holiday," Mr Lee said.

If the virus finally arrives on local shores, he added, "we don't want to get into a panic".

"And we don't have to, if we are well prepared," he said.

Since May last year, Singapore has been carrying out temperature screening at airports for travellers arriving from the Middle East, where the virus originated.

On Tuesday, this was extended to those coming from South Korea, where MERS has killed 10 people and infected 122 as of yesterday evening. South Korea's Health Ministry said the latest person to die was a 65-year-old terminal lung cancer patient whose condition deteriorated after testing positive for MERS.

But more schools there have reopened after a team of experts from the World Health Organisation and South Korea said that schools are unlikely to spread the disease further.

There have been no reported cases in Singapore so far.

Unlike the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, MERS has not evolved the ability to spread easily between humans, said Dr Wong Wei Mon, deputy medical director at Raffles Medical. "It may be reassuring to note that experts do not consider this outbreak (in South Korea), in which all cases are hospital-associated, to have pandemic potential," he said.

But even then, both public and private healthcare institutions - including general practitioner clinics - have been stepping up precautions. Parkway Shenton - which runs the Shenton Medical group of clinics - and Raffles Medical Group said clinic staff have been screening patients and checking their travel history so that suspected cases can be quickly isolated.

Public hospitals also have similar isolation protocols in place for those who show up at emergency departments with symptoms typical of MERS infections, such as fever and cough.

"Suspected MERS patients will remain isolated and be transferred to our isolation ward until the results of their tests and diagnosis are clearer," said Professor Dale Fisher, head of the infectious diseases division at the National University Hospital.

But the definitive tests for whether a patient has MERS will be carried out at TTSH, where all adult suspected cases will be conveyed via ambulance. The ambulance will be disinfected after the trip.

If confirmed to have MERS, they will be isolated in the hospital's Communicable Disease Centre, which is separate from the main building.

TTSH has been screening patients since 2012, when MERS was first detected in Saudi Arabia.

"In general, we have screened more than 500 patients," said Associate Professor Thomas Lew, chairman of its medical board.

Some 180 of those screened were tested for MERS using methods such as nose or throat swabs or sputum samples. All tested negative.

Added Prof Lew: "Given that this has been going on for many years - not just MERS but many other emerging diseases - the staff is on constant alert."

Suspected case in Singapore tests negative
By Kok Xing Hui, The Straits Times, 13 Jun 2015

A TRAVELLER who arrived in Singapore from South Korea this week was sent for checks for the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) but later tested negative.

This was the only suspected MERS case from the seven flights from South Korea screened by the Singapore authorities as of 2pm on Wednesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.

In all, 57 suspected MERS cases had been tested in Singapore as of Wednesday, including those picked up from airport temperature screenings or referred by general practitioners.

All tested negative, said the MOH.

Singapore has been screening air travellers from the Middle East since May last year, but started doing so for air passengers from South Korea from Tuesday, given its worsening MERS situation.

MERS has infected 126 people in South Korea so far. A 72-year-old woman became the latest fatality yesterday, taking the death toll in the country to 11.

The MOH told The Straits Times yesterday that all Singapore hospitals are ready to screen and isolate suspected cases.

Patients who show symptoms of pneumonia or severe respiratory infection, and have visited the Middle East or South Korea recently, will be tested for MERS.

The authorities will also investigate those who have a fever or respiratory illness of any severity, and who visited a healthcare facility in the Middle East or South Korea. Suspected cases may be isolated for further investigations, which may take up to 48 hours.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen wrote on Facebook that individual responsibility matters in the fight against infectious diseases like the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and MERS.

"The weapons against infectious diseases like SARS and MERS are detection and isolation, and to break the chain of infection, individual responsibility counts a lot, especially if you have travelled to areas affected by Mers."

Meanwhile, pharmacy chain Guardian said it had seen an approximately five fold increase in its sales of N95 masks since last week.

No confirmed case in Hong Kong; public urged not to panic
The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2015

HONG KONG - Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection has urged the public not to panic over the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) as no cases of the disease have been detected in the city.

All 33 suspected MERS cases reported in Hong Kong up to noon on Wednesday have tested negative, the city's health authorities said yesterday, as an outbreak in South Korea triggers panic elsewhere in Asia.

Mr Leung Ting Hung, controller for the Centre for Health Protection, said: "We should show concern about the MERS situation overseas, but we should not be overly worried."

Hong Kong also stepped up its notification mechanism from yesterday by giving updates of suspected MERS cases twice, rather than once, a day.

A 22-year-old woman who developed fever and a runny nose after returning from a trip to South Korea caused a clinic inside a rail station in Tsing Yi, which she visited on Wednesday, to be closed and the surrounding area to be cordoned off for disinfection.

The clinic reopened yesterday morning after she tested negative for MERS at a hospital.

But false rumours saying a MERS case had been confirmed in Hong Kong swirled over the Internet, sparking panic. Surgical masks reportedly sold out in shops around the station.

The Centre for Health Protection's spokesman reiterated that the Hong Kong government was concerned over the spreading of MERS rumours, and appealed to the public not to be influenced.

Hong Kong stocks rebounded yesterday after the MERS scare eased.


South Korea's central bank cuts interest rate as MERS death toll rises to 10
Benchmark rate cut to record low of 1.5 per cent; 14 new MERS cases
The Straits Times, 12 Jun 2015

SEOUL - South Korea has reported a 10th death from Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), as the outbreak of the potentially deadly virus forced the central bank to cut its key interest rate to ward off greater economic damage as retailers report a slump in business.

In what has become the largest MERS outbreak outside Saudi Arabia, a 65-year-old man died yesterday after being infected with the virus while receiving treatment for lung cancer at a hospital.

Seoul also reported 14 new cases, including the first infection of a pregnant woman.

The new diagnoses brought to 122 the total number of confirmed cases in South Korea, the Health Ministry said.

Of the 14 new cases, eight of them were infected at Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, a major hospital where 55 people have contracted the virus. That is the largest cluster in the outbreak.

A 39-year-old woman in her final trimester of pregnancy was among those confirmed yesterday to have contracted the virus at the hospital.

Another victim caught the virus at a hospital in Hwaseong city, 40km south of Seoul, and five others are under investigation to discover how they were infected.

More than 3,800 people who came into close contact with those infected are under quarantine.

Growing public alarm has also forced South Korean President Park Geun Hye to cancel a planned trip to the United States from Sunday to next Thursday.

Ms Park's administration has faced a storm of criticism for the perceived slow and insufficient response to the crisis.

Finance Minister Choi Kyung Hwan has urged the public not to overreact, warning that the impact of the outbreak could seriously hurt Asia's fourth-largest economy.

Bank of Korea (BOK) governor Lee Ju Yeol said slowing exports and threats to business from MERS were central to the decision to cut its benchmark rate by a quarter percentage point, to a record low of 1.5 per cent. It was the first cut since March, when the central bank made a surprise cut of 25 basis points.

"The full impact of the outbreak still remains uncertain but we thought it was desirable to act pre-emptively to curb its negative impact on... the economy," Mr Lee said.

In a statement, the central bank added: "In particular, we are concerned that economic and consumer sentiment, which had been improving, will worsen rapidly because of the MERS crisis."

The BOK has slashed its forecast for this year's growth twice already, from 3.9 per cent to 3.4 per cent in January and again to 3.1 per cent in April.

Businesses, including shopping malls, restaurants and cinemas, have reported a sharp drop in sales as people shun public venues with large crowds.

More than 54,000 foreign travellers have cancelled planned trips to South Korea so far this month, according to the Korea Tourism Board.

No comments:

Post a Comment