Thursday, 13 February 2020

COVID-19: Show support for healthcare workers on front lines, says Health Minister Gan Kim Yong

Broader community joins battle against coronavirus as infection hits 50 cases as of 12 Feb 2020
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent and Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2020

As more cases of coronavirus infection surface, this is the time for people to rally around healthcare workers and not shun them, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

He announced yesterday that three more people had been infected, bringing the total here to 50. But as the fight against the virus intensifies, there are signs that the broader community is rallying behind healthcare workers in the front lines.

Mr Gan urged: "Let us come together to show our support for them, and to support their work, so they continue to take care of our patients and families and our loved ones."

"Sometimes, a kind word or a warm greeting will go a long way to make them feel appreciated and give them a morale boost to continue the fight," he added.

Healthcare workers, who had been in the front lines of the fight during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, had been shunned by those who feared they might pass on the infection. Mr Gan indicated that he does not want this to be repeated.

Meanwhile, one million masks will be distributed to general practitioners and specialists in private practice, who need them to protect themselves, their staff and patients.

"They will get the supplies that they need because they are a part of our team," said Mr Gan.

"In this challenging time, it is important for us to work together as a team, as a community and as a nation, to overcome this infection and to keep Singaporeans safe," he added.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who was also at the news conference, said 90 per cent of the drivers from private-hire company Grab are keen to join a new service called Grabcare that will "help our healthcare workers get to and from healthcare facilities".

The service will start tomorrow for those working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, he said.

He said that for Singaporeans who are inspired by such actions, there are opportunities to contribute.

The Courage Fund that was launched for healthcare workers who battled Sars is still active.

Money from the fund helps patients, healthcare workers and their families, as well as the wider community affected by the outbreak.

Donations have started pouring in again.

In a Facebook post last night, President Halimah Yacob announced that the President's Challenge, which has been mobilising resources to help those who may be more susceptible, will be donating $250,000 to the Courage Fund to further support vulnerable groups to tide over this period.

"It is challenging times like this that will truly define who we are as a nation," she wrote.

Another $300,000 has been donated by the CapitaLand Hope Foundation.

Youth Corps will support Willing Hearts, a dignity kitchen, to distribute meals to seniors and the vulnerable, Mr Lee said.

Meanwhile, of the 50 infected, 15 have recovered and been discharged, but eight are seriously ill and in intensive care.

While most infected patients will recover, Mr Gan warned: "Some may get seriously ill, and a small number may succumb to the infection ultimately.

"We have to be prepared for the worst."

The fight against the virus ahead may get harder, he said.

Mr Gan said in Mandarin: "Because we are stepping up our surveillance and doing more testing, we can well expect to see more cases in the coming days and weeks."

President Halimah urges Singaporeans to support healthcare workers

By Clement Yong and Cheryl Tan, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2020

President Halimah Yacob has urged Singaporeans to stand behind the country's healthcare workers in the light of reports that some have been poorly treated.

Madam Halimah noted in a Facebook post yesterday that "it is up to us as individuals in our daily interactions with them to show our appreciation, support and empathy".

Her remarks came as Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Wednesday that showing nurses and doctors appreciation could "give them a morale boost to continue the fight".

The issue of how Singaporeans treat healthcare staff has gained attention in recent days, with several widely shared posts about people avoiding them on MRT trains circulating on social media.

Madam Halimah wrote: "It is really painful to read and hear about how our front-line healthcare workers are treated... Remember that they too are human beings and worry about their own health and that of their families as they plod on daily to take care of other people's family members.

"They had to cast aside their own fears and valiantly serve the ill out of a sense of duty and compassion."

Some healthcare workers have said that people in public spaces are giving them a wide berth when they are in uniform and that some private-hire drivers have been reluctant to pick them up. Some even said they are considering changing out of their uniforms after their shifts to put others more at ease.

Madam Halimah added in her Facebook post: "Why then do some of us make their lives so difficult at a time when we need them the most? As I've said before, how we respond to this crisis defines us as a people... Let's do it the Singaporean way."

Earlier in the day, the President visited Christalite Methodist Home in Marsiling Drive, and interacted with the welfare home's elderly residents during their therapy sessions. She also distributed hygiene products including disinfectant liquid and hand sanitiser.

In a separate Facebook post after her visit, Madam Halimah wrote: "A collective community effort is important especially in helping the vulnerable groups in our society who may not have access to resources."

She had said on Wednesday that the President's Challenge, an annual event that mobilises resources to help the less fortunate, will be donating $250,000 to the Courage Fund to further support vulnerable groups during this period.

Meanwhile, people and groups across the island have been rallying behind nurses and other healthcare staff. Some have penned them handwritten notes, while many Grab drivers said they are keen to join a new service called GrabCare to help medical workers get to and from healthcare facilities.

Donations have also started pouring in to funds that go to coronavirus patients, healthcare workers and their families.

The Government said on Wednesday that one million masks will be distributed to general practitioners and specialists in private practice, their staff, as well as their patients.

Singapore Government to foot bills of infected patients at public hospitals, except outpatient expenses
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 14 Feb 2020

The Government is paying for hospital bills incurred by coronavirus patients in public hospitals, but this coverage does not extend to outpatient treatment, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times yesterday, MOH said all patients suspected of being infected by the coronavirus, which causes the disease officially called Covid-19, must be admitted to hospitals for isolation and management to prevent community transmission.

"The Government will pay the hospital bill in full for such admissions in public hospitals, which are required for public health reasons," it said.

This coverage does not extend to outpatient treatment at general practitioner (GP) clinics or polyclinics, nor does it apply to treatment sought at private medical facilities.

All confirmed cases of the coronavirus are currently treated at public hospitals.

However, health insurance policyholders may be covered for other medical expenses incurred as a result of the virus, depending on the plans purchased.

The General Insurance Association of Singapore (GIA) and the Life Insurance Association, Singapore (LIA) said in a statement on Tuesday that policyholders with Integrated Shield Plans (IPs) and riders from insurers will be covered for hospitalisation expenses related to the coronavirus.

IPs and riders provide coverage on top of MediShield Life for hospitalisation bills incurred at private hospitals or Class A wards at public hospitals as well as pre-and post-hospitalisation expenses, depending on the plan chosen by the buyer as well as the insurer.

This coverage applies to people with IP policies from insurers that are members of LIA, such as AIA, NTUC Income and Prudential.

Many non-IP individual and group health insurance policies will also provide coverage for medical expenses related to the coronavirus, the associations added.

AIA, NTUC Income and Prudential Singapore said their IP plans cover pre-and post-hospitalisation medical costs on top of hospitalisation expenses related to the coronavirus, with the extent of coverage subject to policy benefits. This can include expenses from visits to polyclinics and GP clinics.

AIA added that its AIA Hospital Income plan provides a cash payout for each day the insured is hospitalised in a hospital due to the coronavirus.

Policyholders are advised to approach their financial adviser and/or insurer to find out more about their insurance benefits and terms and conditions in their policies, the two insurance associations added. "Employers with group policies are also advised to review their group policy documents and engage their insurers about the coverage," the associations said.

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus here was announced on Jan 23, with most of the initial cases imported from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak in China. Since then, several clusters of local transmissions have emerged and Singapore raised its disease outbreak response level to orange last Friday.

Coronavirus outbreak: Initiatives to show support for front-line medical staff
Grab launches GrabCare rides to ferry them as many answer call to pen encouraging notes
By Hariz Baharudin and Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2020

A string of initiatives to support healthcare workers on the front line of efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak has emerged, amid reports that some workers were shunned in public.

The initiatives include one to encourage private-hire drivers to ferry healthcare workers and a movement to pen notes of encouragement.

From tomorrow, some doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals will have access to a new dedicated on-demand service from Grab to get rides to travel to and from hospitals.

The service, called GrabCare, will start operating for healthcare professionals to book a ride home from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), said Grab in a statement yesterday.

The firm added that the service will be subsequently expanded to include rides from homes to hospitals, and widened to more participating hospitals.

Grab has reached out to NCID and TTSH to obtain details of relevant medical staff so that they can be included in a list of people approved to use the GrabCare function.

Once included in the list, users will have an option in their app to select a GrabCare ride - in addition to the other standard options.

When these users choose to get a GrabCare ride, their request will be sent out to drivers who have indicated their interest to ferry these medical professionals.

Grab said that 2,000 driver-partners have signed up to be part of the service since Tuesday.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan hailed the initiative after meeting some of the drivers earlier in the day at the Newton Food Centre.

Mr Khaw, who was health minister during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, underscored the importance of supporting medical professionals and said that the dedication and bravery of hospital workers now is reminiscent of those during Sars.

"Their stories remind me of Sars when I personally witnessed so many brave acts of our healthcare workers. Nobody left their stations. They stayed put, to save and care for as many as they could," he said.

"A few succumbed to Sars. That is why it is heart-wrenching to read of some who shun our healthcare workers."

Mr Khaw was joined by labour chief Ng Chee Meng, who noted that some of the drivers and leaders of the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association had embarked on a similar effort during the Sars outbreak.

"They assured me that they will do their best to rally the ground to support our healthcare workers because they understand it is imperative that we stand as one people in our fight against the virus," Mr Ng added.

There is also an ongoing movement to write notes of encouragement to front-line medical staff, as part of a movement known as #braveheartsg.

Members of the public are invited to pen handwritten notes, take pictures of them, and then upload the images onto Facebook as public posts with the hashtag #braveheartsg.

They can also e-mail the photos to

Community group StandUp For.SG, which is spearheading this initiative, will print out these images and distribute them to staff at healthcare institutions across the island from Valentine's Day tomorrow onwards.

Since the initiative began last Saturday, it has already drawn more than 800 responses.

StandUpFor.SG co-founder Wally Tham wants medical professionals to know that Singaporeans are behind them.

"As they fight this coronavirus, we have their backs and we love them and care for them," he said in a video explaining what the #braveheartsg movement is about.

"So let's all come together and show them our support."

Budget 2020 will include 'strong' package to counter coronavirus fallout: Lawrence Wong
The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2020

Singapore will roll out a strong economic package next week as part of its Budget to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, with the impact on the trade-reliant economy seen as worse than during the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) pandemic.

The increased economic threat stems from several reasons, such as China's economy being much bigger today as well as being more consumption-and service-oriented, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force set up to coordinate Singapore's response to the coronavirus.

"I think you can well anticipate a larger impact overall, which will then have a knock-on impact on Singapore too," he said in an interview with Bloomberg News.

"We are preparing for that, we are anticipating that, and that is why we will announce what the appropriate measures" are in the Budget, which will be delivered Tuesday.

Mr Wong declined to reveal the size of the package or whether it will be bigger than the $230 million Sars relief package rolled out during the 2003 crisis, which also battered Singapore's economy at the time.

The Sars relief package contained property tax rebates and a bridging loan programme for small-and medium-sized firms to help with short-term cash-flow problems.

Mr Wong said that beyond specific sectors such as tourism and hospitality that have already weakened, the broader knock-on effect could be quite severe. The hit to China's economy will have an impact on the global economy, and Singapore will surely be impacted in such a scenario, he added.

"We are preparing for a strong package in the coming Budget to help our companies as well as to help workers stay in their jobs," Mr Wong said.

Singapore is already bracing itself for its economy to be hit harder by the coronavirus than Sars. It is expecting as much as a 30 per cent drop in tourist arrivals and spending this year. In a report last week, DBS Group Holdings said it sees a decline of one million tourists, equal to about a $1 billion loss in spending, for every three months the travel bans are in place.

DBS downgraded its 2020 growth forecast for Singapore to 0.9 per cent from 1.4 per cent in response to the negative impact from the virus. Nomura Holdings also cut its growth forecast to 0.3 per cent from 1.3 per cent, while OCBC widened its 2020 forecast to factor in more downside risks.

Singapore has 50 confirmed cases of the virus, one of the largest number of infections outside China. In response to the growing number of locally transmitted cases, the government last Friday raised its national disease response level to "orange", its second-highest level and the same one used during the 2003 Sars epidemic.

Separately, Mr Wong also addressed the wave of panic buying that happened when Singapore raised its disaster alert response level last Friday.

He told a news conference yesterday afternoon that the situation has stabilised, and to meet that sudden surge in demand, retailers moved stock from the warehouse into the retail outlets. "Some outlets may not be fully stocked for all items, but it is not because of shortage of supplies. It is simply a manpower and logistics issue in order to get the restocking done," he said.

"We expect all outlets of the major retailers to have normal stock levels in a day or two. We just want to continue to assure Singaporeans that our supply chains, when it comes to food and grocery items, remain robust," he added.

He also said that Singapore's diversification strategy ensures it is protected from any sudden shocks. "That has been proven, even with this last wave of sudden surge in demand."


Chief medical officer responds to view that everyone should wear a mask to avoid infection
Medical chief rebuts doctors' mask advice
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2020

Wearing a mask is not the most important thing to do to keep the coronavirus at bay, said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the director of medical services.

He was responding to questions on the advice circulated by four doctors that everyone should wear a mask when leaving home, regularly wash hands and reduce unnecessary mingling with others - challenging official advice which is to wear masks only if sick.

The doctors argued: "If one faces a person and both parties are masked, it is considerably safer, constituting a two-barrier protection."

Prof Mak noted there has been a lot of well-intentioned advice on social media, including from doctors. He said while some advice is very relevant, such as reminders to wash one's hands, people must remember the virus is spread via droplets with no evidence that it is airborne.

"Be aware of things you commonly touch. The thing most commonly touched is your phone, so wearing a mask is not the most important thing," he added.

Government leaders have said that only those who are unwell need to wear a mask, while those who are well need not do so. As the virus is spread by droplets, keeping hands clean, and away from the face, are more important ways to avoid catching the bug.

One of the four doctors, Dr Colleen Thomas, an internal medicine specialist in private practice, told The Straits Times they felt obliged to send out the warning as "the burden of not doing so is too great to bear".

Their letter shared on chat groups said: "The infected are not always traceable and containable within hospital isolation rooms. As this virus is said to be milder, infected people with no symptoms could transmit the virus to others silently."

Dr Thomas said: "As a doctor, how can I not speak out when I know that there is danger to people?"

Can the coronavirus be spread through the air?
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2020

As of Tuesday (Feb 11), Singapore has reported 10 cases of the new coronavirus involving patients with no travel history to China and where no clear link could be established between them and previous cases.

In light of this, readers have asked how the virus could be transmitted without direct prolonged contact with any infected person.


A: There is currently no strong evidence to support the claim that the virus can be transmitted through the air.

It is believed to be spread mainly through droplets, such as from the mucus or saliva of an infected person who sneezes or coughs.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam said the virus is likely to die when the droplets dry up.

Experts say if the virus could really survive even after the droplets carrying it have dried up, it would have spread through the air as dust particles and potentially infected 10 times more people, which is not the case.

Last week, a Shanghai official, Mr Zeng Qun, said the virus could spread through aerosol transmission, or the mixing of the virus with airborne liquid droplets.

This would allow the virus to linger in the air and infect those who inhale it, he said. Diseases that are known to spread this way include tuberculosis, chicken pox and measles.

But an infectious diseases expert at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Mr Feng Luzhao, refuted this on Sunday, stating that the droplets carrying the virus travel only about 1m to 2m and do not stay suspended in the air. This is why you are unlikely to catch the virus through transient (or short-term) contact such as on public transport.

There is also no need to worry if you live near a quarantine facility.


A: Not necessarily. Viruses are less likely to thrive in hot and humid conditions.

Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, programme leader of infectious diseases at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said air-conditioned spaces could help to spread respiratory diseases instead.

Experts have yet to establish precisely how long the coronavirus can survive on surfaces and objects.

Some studies show that coronaviruses in general could potentially survive on metal, glass or plastic surfaces for several days.

However, this is under ideal circumstances. For the virus, this means cool and dry environments.

Turning off the air-conditioner and making sure the space is well ventilated could help reduce the risk of infection.

The best way to avoid infection from having potentially touched a contaminated surface is still to avoid touching your face with your hands, and to wash your hands with soap and water frequently.


A: Professor Wang Linfa, director of the programme in emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School, says ultraviolet rays and heat from the sun can kill the virus.

Getting vitamin D from exposure to sunlight can also help boost one's immune system, Prof Wang noted.

Dr Leong also says people should not worry about catching the virus from online shopping packages from China, as the long period of transportation and exposure to the sun would kill the virus if the package is tainted.

The Health Ministry's chief health scientist, Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, has said that the likelihood of viral persistence outdoors is lower, as most studies indicate that viruses do not persist well in hot and humid environments.

This refers to a temperature of over 30 deg C and a humidity level of over 80 per cent.

SAF monitoring temperatures of soldiers, staggering meal times in camps as part of new measures
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2020

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has implemented new measures, including temperature-taking and staggering meal times in camps, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Cleaning and disinfection schedules for SAF-chartered buses and ferries have been stepped up. Non-essential social activities such as cohesion events have also been deferred.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, after a visit to the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) yesterday, said that while the SAF's mission is to defend Singapore whether or not there is a virus, necessary steps must be taken to safeguard the health of its soldiers.

"And this is exactly what we are doing to make sure that both are top priorities as we continue with our training and as we look after the health of our soldiers," he said.

He was speaking to reporters after observing some of the new measures which were put in place after Singapore moved its disease outbreak response up one level to "orange" last Friday.

Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition, "orange" means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact, though the situation is still under control. It is one step below "red", which signifies an out-of-control pandemic.

Asked about the plans in place if there should be a suspected or confirmed case of the coronavirus in an SAF camp, Mr Heng said that person would be sent to the medical centre for assessment, while contact tracing and isolation of close contacts would be done.

"The standards at our medical centres and their procedures are exactly the same as those that are adopted by the MOH (Ministry of Health). If the doctor here feels that the patient fits the criteria and needs to be referred to the NCID, then that would be done," he said, referring to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

He added that there were currently no plans to cancel in-camp training for operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen).

"However, we have also instituted measures such as... reminding people that if they are sick they should let it be known so that we can then ask them not to undertake IPPT, for example. It can be rescheduled so that in the meantime you can seek treatment," he said.

Some NSmen received a text message yesterday saying the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) at Fitness Conditioning Centres had been cancelled until Feb 29, and those affected would be informed via SMS. But anyone taking the IPPT during in-camp training would not be affected, the message said.

Since last Friday, the temperatures of visitors to SAF camps have been taken. All are also required to fill in an online form, which includes questions on visits to China in the last 14 days.

At the cookhouse in BMTC yesterday, reporters saw how hand-washing before meals has been made mandatory.

Meal times have also been staggered such that only two companies will eat at the cookhouse at one time. The cookhouse can accommodate four to five companies.

The number of guests recruits can invite to their BMTC graduation parade and to direct enlistment, during which parents can tour SAF camps and interact with commanders, might also be reduced.

Second Lieutenant Frederick Tang, 22, who is a platoon commander at BMTC, said bleach has been given to recruits so that they can clean their bunks and common areas more thoroughly.

"We encourage the recruits to sound off whenever they are feeling unwell. Any of them who display any symptoms will be separated from the others and brought to the medical centre to be assessed."

1,000 Ministry of Manpower calls and visits daily to ensure work pass holders comply with mandatory leave of absence
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2020

More than 1,000 calls and visits are being made daily as part of checks by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to ensure work pass holders are serving the mandatory 14-day leave of absence (LOA).

Other measures include requiring all workers on the LOA to self-report their location to the ministry, a senior MOM official told reporters yesterday, following an announcement last week that the Government would tighten enforcement and monitoring on this front.

Mr Felix Ong, director of the employment inspectorate at MOM's foreign manpower management division, said MOM conducts three layers of checks daily on work pass holders who are serving the LOA.

Those on LOA should limit their contact with others and stay at home, but can make brief trips for necessities or food.

First, text messages with a unique Web link have been sent to all workers serving the LOA since Monday, warning them that they need to report their location to MOM within an hour. When clicked, the link prompts the worker to turn on the GPS location service on his phone, and his location is sent to the ministry to see if the worker is at his correct place of residence.

While Mr Ong did not reveal the frequency of such messages, citing operational sensitivities, he said they are sent randomly and multiple times a day to each worker.

Second, calls are made seven days a week to some workers. MOM also did not reveal how such workers are selected, but a spokesman said the calls are made randomly at different intervals, without a specific number of calls per day.

A voice call is first made to notify the worker that MOM is contacting him, followed by a video call. The worker's identity and details are verified against MOM's database.

If the calls are repeatedly missed, checks are made with the employer.

Third, enforcement officers from MOM may conduct spot checks at the places where workers on LOA are staying. Mr Keith Aw, a senior manager who conducts such checks, said the inspections are also done to check on the well-being of those under the LOA.

Workers are asked about their health, their accommodation and whether they are still receiving their salary, said Mr Aw, who works in MOM's foreign manpower management division.

If a worker is unwell, he is given a mask and asked to seek medical treatment. Any issues raised will be taken up with the employer.

Mr Ong said MOM takes compliance with the LOA very seriously.

On Sunday, the ministry repatriated and banned four work pass holders and suspended work pass privileges for six employers for two years for flouting LOA rules.

Clear-cut examples of rule breaking include working at the workplace, or leaving the house for non-essential trips, like seeing a movie.

Although the LOA is compulsory for all people returning from China, including Singaporeans, MOM is focusing on work pass holders, he said.

"If there are cases (of Singaporeans) that come up, we won't hesitate to take action. I think there is a high degree of awareness. We have sent out advisories on the regulations, and we will rely on the employer to check," he said.

Task force to tackle expected 30% fall in tourists
Tourism board projects Singapore is losing as many as 20,000 visitors each day due to virus
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2020

Singapore's tourism industry is strapping in for a ride that could be bumpier - and longer - than its worst crisis in recent memory.

The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is projecting a 25 per cent to 30 per cent drop in visitor arrivals this year, as the deadly coronavirus continues its global spread. The disease, yesterday given the official name Covid-19 (Corona Virus Disease) by the World Health Organisation, has killed more than 1,000 and infected more than 43,000 worldwide.

This estimated impact on arrivals here is steeper than the 19 per cent decline in 2003, when Singapore endured the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak.

"We believe that the situation this year will be at least as severe as Sars, and probably worse," STB chief executive Keith Tan said at its annual year-in-review briefing yesterday.

"At this point, we estimate that every day, we lose an average of 18,000 to 20,000 international visitor arrivals to Singapore," he added.

The year's outlook depends on factors such as how long the outbreak in China will last, what kind of economic effects it will have on the region and how long it will take for traveller demand to return.

STB is also preparing for a slower recovery than Sars, which took under a year to bounce back.

While Singapore is now more prepared and resilient, there may be a longer dampening effect on travel if regional supply chains and gross domestic product growth are impacted, or if social media creates a lingering effect, said Mr Tan.

Already, travellers are postponing or cancelling visits to the region, he noted.

Singapore's Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) sector is also feeling the squeeze, with several hundred events getting postponed or cancelled since last Friday, said industry players.

A task force comprising tourism leaders from both the private and public sectors will be formed to lay out strategies for recovery and future growth.

This comes on the back of yet another year of record highs in tourist arrivals and spending for Singapore.

Last year's strong showing is testament to Singapore's strong tourism fundamentals, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post.

But with its largest source market of China drying up, Singapore's arrival numbers have already started to tumble, STB said, as Chinese tourists account for one in five visitors to the Republic. Recent curbs on arrivals from the mainland have battered businesses that rely on them.

Singapore now has 47 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, with two more announced yesterday, the highest number for a country outside of China. Last Friday, the Republic's disease outbreak response went up a notch to "orange" after locally transmitted cases were established, prompting countries such as Kuwait and Qatar to urge their citizens to defer non-essential travel.

STB's Mr Tan said: "We see no reason for other countries to have travel advisories on Singapore - we are very confident in the measures the Government has in place to contain the cases here."

Despite the difficult year ahead, Singapore is unlikely to suffer any long-term effects, and there are no plans to push back tourism projects, he said. The sector expects support measures to be announced at this year's Budget.

The Government provided a $230 million relief package in 2003, which included higher property tax rebates for gazetted tourist hotels and a reduction in foreign worker levies. Visitor arrivals and spending rebounded in 2004, even outstripping pre-Sars numbers in 2002.

Singapore, Malaysia to form joint working group to curb outbreak
By Hazlin Hassan, Malaysia Correspondent In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 12 Feb 2020

Singapore and Malaysia will set up a joint working group to strengthen cooperation in tackling the spread of the coronavirus.

The authorities from both countries announced the working group yesterday after a video conference meeting between Singapore Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and his Malaysian counterpart, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The ministers had agreed that it is important for both countries to continue working closely together on the outbreak, especially given the high volume of travel between Singapore and Malaysia, Singapore's Ministry of Health said in a statement.

"Since the start of the outbreak, both countries have been in close touch with one another, including expeditiously sharing information on cross-border cases," it added.

"The cooperation would not have been possible without the strong collaboration and network built up over the years."

Separately, Dr Dzulkefly said at a news conference in Putrajaya: "We share the same Causeway, there are hundreds of people travelling across each day for reasons of family, business and leisure, so all the more why we should strengthen and enhance our cooperation managing this coronavirus outbreak."

Senior health officials from both sides will work over the next few days to determine the composition and terms of reference of the group.

Singapore has nominated Senior Minister of State for Transport and Health Lam Pin Min as a co-chair.

During the video conference, Mr Gan and Dr Dzulkefly also updated each other on the situation in the respective countries, and discussed public health measures, epidemiological findings and clinical management of the disease.

Malaysia has identified 18 cases of the coronavirus so far, while Singapore has seen 47 cases.

Chinese nationals make up 12 of the cases in Malaysia. The remaining six are Malaysians.

Malaysia's first recorded coronavirus patients were China tourists who had entered the country via Johor Baru from Singapore, while Malaysia's first local patient had attended a conference in Singapore.

Malaysia's Sarawak state on Monday announced that those who had recently visited Singapore must undergo an immediate self-imposed 14-day home quarantine.

But Sarawak's state disaster management committee yesterday revised its guidelines and said visitors from Singapore would not need to self-quarantine, but only take precautionary measures such as avoiding public places and practising good hygiene.

Novel coronavirus named 'COVID-19': WHO
The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2020

GENEVA (AFP) - The UN health agency on Tuesday (Feb 11) announced that "Covid-19" will be the official name of the deadly virus from China, saying the disease represented a "very grave threat" for the world but there was a "realistic chance" of stopping it.

"We now have a name for the disease and it's Covid-19," World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in Geneva.

Tedros said that "co" stands for "corona", "vi" for "virus" and "d" for "disease", while "19" was for the year, as the outbreak was first identified on Dec 31.

Tedros said the name had been chosen to avoid references to a specific geographical location, animal species or group of people in line with international recommendations for naming aimed at preventing stigmatisation.

WHO had earlier given the virus the temporary name of "2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease" and China's National Health Commission this week said it was temporarily calling it "novel coronavirus pneumonia" or NCP.

Under a set of guidelines issued in 2015, WHO advises against using place names such as Ebola and Zika - where those diseases were first identified and which are now inevitably linked to them in the public mind.

More general names such as "Middle East Respiratory Syndrome" or "Spanish flu" are also now avoided as they can stigmatise entire regions or ethnic groups.

WHO also notes that using animal species in the name can create confusion, such as in 2009 when H1N1 was popularly referred to as "swine flu".

This had a major impact on the pork industry even though the disease was being spread by people rather than pigs.

People's names - usually the scientists who identified the disease - are also banned, as are "terms that incite undue fear" such as "unknown" or "fatal", the WHO said.


The virus has killed more than 1,000 people, infected over 42,000 and reached some 25 countries, with the WHO declaring a global health emergency.

Addressing scientists at the first international conference on combating the virus earlier on Tuesday, Tedros warned that the virus was a "very grave threat".

"Viruses can have more powerful consequences than any terrorist action," he told reporters later.

About 400 scientists were taking part in the two-day international meeting in Geneva called to review how the virus is transmitted and possible vaccines against it.

"We are not defenceless," Tedros said, adding: "If we invest now... we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak."

Participants will also discuss the source of the virus, which is thought to have originated in bats and reached humans via other "intermediary" species such as snakes or pangolins.

WHO sent an advance team to China this week for an international mission to examine the epidemic.

It was unclear, however, whether the team would be able to visit Wuhan, a city in central China which has been under lockdown after the outbreak was registered in a food and live animal market in the city.


No specific treatment or vaccine against the virus exists, and WHO has repeatedly urged countries to share data in order to further research into the disease.

"That is especially true in relation to sharing of samples and sequences. To defeat this outbreak, we need open and equitable sharing, according to the principles of fairness and equity," Tedros told the scientific conference.

He said he hoped the scientists could agree a roadmap "around which researchers and donors will align".

Several teams of experts in Australia, Britain, China, France, Germany and the United States are racing to develop a vaccine - a process that normally takes years.

Efforts to come up with a vaccine are being led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a body established in 2017 to finance costly biotechnology research in the wake of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people.

Ultimately, however, scientists may end up in the same situation they were during the 2002-03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) - which died out before a vaccine could be fully developed.

A close cousin of Covid-19, Sars spread around the world and killed nearly 800.

Ministry of Health - Updates on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) Local Situation 2019 - COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) situation in Singapore

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