Sunday, 9 February 2020

DORSCON Orange: Singapore raises coronavirus outbreak alert on 7 February 2020; Singaporeans clear supermarket shelves in panic buying of essentials

MOH steps up coronavirus response to code orange after 3 new cases with no known source
Under code orange, outbreak deemed to have moderate to high public health impact
By Chang Ai-Lien, Science and Health Editor and Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

Singapore moved its disease outbreak response up one level to "orange" yesterday as the coronavirus spread further in the country, with three new cases announced of unknown origin, including a junior college teacher.

To date, four people here have been infected with the virus who have no known links to previous cases or any travel history to China.

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.

The emphasis will now be on "aggressively trying to stop or limit further spread", according to the Ministry of Health's (MOH) pandemic readiness and preparedness plan.

"We have been preparing for this scenario, and we are ready to manage the situation," said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a news conference yesterday.

"The key is quick detection and limiting further spread."

Globally, the situation has escalated, with nearly 32,000 people infected and more than 630 deaths. At least 320 patients are outside mainland China.

Singapore's heightened response comes as the ministry announced three new cases yesterday.

All are Singaporeans not linked to earlier clusters and who had not been to China recently.

They were discovered because hospitals here have been testing all pneumonia patients for the virus.

They are a 53-year-old man who was in Malaysia for three days last month; a 42-year-old woman who is a teacher at Victoria Junior College; and a 39-year-old woman who was in Malaysia from Jan 22 to Jan 29.

The total number of people infected here has grown to 33.

Two of the patients have been discharged, but two are now in critical condition and in the intensive care unit, said MOH.

With code orange, new precautionary measures to minimise the risk of further virus transmission to the community include schools cancelling inter-school events and external activities, companies implementing business continuity plans, limiting visits to pre-schools and eldercare services, and temperature screening in hospitals.

The Government has been ramping up its defences against the virus since last month, with many of the measures in "orange" already in place, and being stepped up now.

During yesterday's news conference, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak, said the mortality rate in China is 2 per cent, but outside Hubei province, the mortality rate is 0.2 per cent.

Singapore has to be prepared for the situation to evolve in different ways. If it worsens, even more stringent measures may be adopted or, if the mortality rate remains low or falls further, a different approach could be taken, he said.

The coding system was set up after the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak. Code orange was imposed during the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009.

After news of the raised outbreak response became public yesterday, politicians and supermarket chains asked shoppers to remain calm after items such as rice and noodles began flying off the shelves.

Some parents asked for school to be suspended, but Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said there was no need to do so. Given all the measures taken, schools may actually be one of the safest places for students, he noted in a Facebook post.

Said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the task force: "I understand Singaporeans are anxious, concerned, and there is much we don't yet know about the virus...

"Life cannot come to a standstill... We will do our best to contain the situation and keep Singaporeans safe."

Additional reporting by Timothy Goh and Rei Kurohi


Move to orange alert reflects heightened virus risk: MOH
New measures taken in response; these could be reviewed or added to as situation evolves
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

Singapore has stepped up its response to the coronavirus outbreak to code orange because of heightened risk, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

This is because there are now four cases of infection with no known links to China or people already infected, which means the disease may be spreading in the community.

Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon), the orange alert means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday: "As a response to local cases without any links to previous cases or travel history to China, we have stepped up our level."

With Singapore now in code orange, MOH said yesterday that it is introducing additional measures "to minimise the risk of further transmission of the virus in the community". The emphasis will now be on "aggressively trying to stop or limit further spread", according to MOH's pandemic readiness and preparedness plan.

Mr Gan noted that "many of the measures in 'orange' are already in place".

The different colours in the response levels therefore form a continum, rather than discrete levels, with measures that could be stepped up - or reviewed - in response to how the virus outbreak plays out in the weeks ahead.

For now, the new measures to be implemented are:

• Event organisers are advised to cancel or defer non-essential large-scale events. Those who choose to continue should take additional precautions.

• Carry out temperature checks.

• Look out for respiratory symptoms such as cough or runny nose, and deny entry to people who are sick.

• Ask participants to declare travel history to China.

• Ensure the venue is well ventilated with enough facilities for hand washing.

• Increase frequency of cleaning of commonly used areas.

• Maintain a registration list of participants if possible.

• People who are on leave of absence should not attend such events.

• Employers are urged to require staff to conduct regular temperature-taking, at least twice a day. Anyone with a fever should see a doctor immediately. If their temperature is above 38 deg C, they should not be at work. Staff should also be checked for cough or runny nose.

• Companies should step up their business continuity plans, which may include asking employees to telecommute or segregating them into teams.

• MOH will implement temperature screening and closer controls of entry points into hospitals. Patients with pneumonia will be separated from other patients to reduce risk of transmission.

• Schools will immediately stop all inter-school and external activities till the end of the March school holidays. This includes the National School Games, learning journeys and camps. Primary school teachers will take pupils to toilets to wash their hands before recess and snack breaks. Secondary school students will be reminded to do so.

• Pre-schools and eldercare facilities will limit the number of visitors to their premises.

These reflect measures Singapore had implemented during the Sars outbreak. It is only the second time Singapore has activated code orange. The first was for the swine flu (H1N1) outbreak in 2009.

MOH said that all its measures will be effective only if people play their part. Mr Gan added: "We are closely monitoring the situation and will further ramp up measures if necessary."

But it will all depend on how the situation evolves. Mr Gan said: "If we are able to contain the cases, determine the sources of the cases, and those we could not determine have recovered and (are) discharged, we will consider stepping back to 'yellow'."


With code orange, avoid shaking hands, but no need for those who are well to wear mask: Ministry of Health (MOH)
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

Avoid shaking hands during this period and adopt alternative greetings instead, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday following a rise in the Republic's response level to the coronavirus outbreak to code orange.

The Disease Outbreak Response System Condition level was raised following the confirmation of four cases here with no recent travel history to China or links to previous cases, indicating that the disease is severe and spreads easily, but is being contained.

Despite this, however, the health authorities say there is still no need for those who are well to wear a mask.

The director of medical services at MOH, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said this is because the main mode by which the virus is transmitted is through droplets.

Therefore, touching contaminated surfaces, and then touching your nose, mouth and eyes, could put you at risk of getting infected.

"This form of transmission is best combated by regular hand washing, and with those who are ill wearing a mask to protect others, seeing a doctor as early as possible, and avoiding going into crowded places.

"But for the general public, wearing a mask is not needed," said Prof Mak.

MOH has said that even if there is community transmission, the most effective method to prevent the spread of the virus is to practise good personal hygiene. This involves regular hand washing with soap and water, and using hand sanitisers when they are unavailable.

The ministry emphasised that people should not touch their faces unnecessarily, especially if their hands are not clean.

Those who are unwell should stay at home. If they must go out, they should wear a mask and avoid coming into close and sustained proximity with others.

Workers who come cross customers who are unwell should immediately advise customers to leave and see a doctor, said the Health Ministry.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force that is tackling the spread of the virus here, said: "I understand that Singaporeans are anxious and concerned, and there is much we do not know about the virus... Life cannot come to a standstill, but we should take all the necessary precautions and carry on."

No need to suspend school, says Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, after some parents express concern about children’s safety
Minister allays parents' concerns, says schools may actually be one of the safest places for kids
By Timothy Goh and Jolene Ang, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

There is no need to suspend school, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said last night, after some parents expressed concern about their children's safety as Singapore raised its response to the coronavirus outbreak to code orange.

In fact, with enhanced measures being implemented, schools may actually be one of the safest places for the children.

"Some parents have suggested suspending school. But this is a drastic move that will disrupt life for many families, and it is also not realistic to expect older children to stay home the whole time school is closed," Mr Ong said in a Facebook post last night.

Systemwide, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has implemented enhanced measures including suspending inter-school activities and external activities until the end of the March school holidays.

"This is to reduce the mixing of students across schools and exposure to large crowds at public places," said Mr Ong.

"We have also put in place a stringent hygiene regime, ensuring students and staff practise good personal hygiene, and also social hygiene protocols such as wiping down surfaces after use," he added.

Mr Ong said: "Should there be wide community spread - which we hope will not happen - and given all the measures we have taken, schools may actually be one of the safest places for our students."

"We are calling on our 33,000 educators to make that happen," he added. "We will continue to monitor the situation and do the necessary steps to keep our people safe."

MOE announced the enhanced measures yesterday, the same day the Health Ministry raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition to code orange.

MOE will first enhance its social distancing measures across all its schools, director of schools Liew Wei Li said at a news conference yesterday afternoon.

This means that all external and inter-school activities will be suspended until the end of the March school holidays on March 22.

Hygiene protocols will also be stepped up. In primary schools, teachers will take pupils to the toilet to wash their hands before recess and snack breaks. Secondary school students will be reminded to do the same.

As schools commemorate Total Defence Day next week, a new protocol will also be put in place: Getting students to clean their eating surfaces after their meals.

Earlier in the week, MOE had announced other measures to combat the virus, including suspending large group and communal activities such as assemblies and camps, and staggered recess times.

At Farrer Park Primary School yesterday morning, pupils learnt that masks should be worn only when they are unwell.

This is to prevent germs from being spread to others, they were taught in a character and citizenship education class, during a media visit.

The school's principal Cheong Hwee Khim, 53, said an annual Primary 5 outdoor adventure camp that was slated to begin on Monday was postponed following the announcement of the measures.

Ms Cheong, a teacher during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak in 2003, said a lesson drawn from then was the importance of being prepared. Her pupils are used to temperature-taking, with drills done twice a year.

The school now has four recess timings, up from two, she added. "We looked at our timetable to see how we could split the children into different groups. And at the same time, we don't want to disrupt teaching and learning in class."

Of the 622 pupils in the school, just one is on a 14-day leave of absence. This is implemented for those with recent travel history to China.

The teachers check in on him every day.

The school has about 65 teaching and support staff. None is on leave of absence.

Primary 5 pupil Joel Ng, 11, said: "If we all do our part, we can overcome this as a nation, like my teachers said we did for Sars."

Architect Wendy Koh, 39, whose daughter in Primary 4 is in Haig Girls' School, said she is wary of the coronavirus situation, but will let her daughter continue to go to school.

She said the school is doing a good job. For example, it had asked the children to eat in their classrooms during recess, and also advised against playing outside.

"The Government should look at boosting home-based learning options, such as a live stream of classes by teachers, in case the situation worsens," she said.

National School Games suspended until March 2020, other sports events also affected by virus
By Sazali Abdul Aziz, Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

A number of local sports events, including those at the school level and national sports leagues, have been either cancelled or postponed after Singapore upped its disease outbreak response to the coronavirus to code orange yesterday.

Others are stepping up measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, or choosing to proceed with caution.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced that all external school activities and inter-school activities, including the ongoing National School Games, will be suspended until the end of the March school holidays as part of precautionary measures against the virus outbreak.

"These additional measures are intended to help schools minimise exposure of students to the public and avoid mixing of students across schools," an MOE spokes-man said in a media statement.

Dr Dawn Lim, whose three children - Joel, 13, Joshua, 15, and Clare, 17 - are in the Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) tennis team, said it is the right move.

Joshua was scheduled to play in the B Division Boys team semi-finals on Wednesday.

"Obviously, the children will be disappointed because they have been looking forward to the competition and preparing for it," said Dr Lim, who runs a private practice.

"But everyone understands the unique situation, and that health and safety come first. This situation is not something we can control, and (the moves) are for the good of everyone."

In the light of the heightened level, the Singapore Sports Hub has cancelled the ongoing National Stadium Open House this weekend as well as its KpopX Fitness event, which was aiming to enter the Singapore Book of Records for the largest number of participants.

In a media statement, the Sports Hub said it would implement additional precautionary measures, such as requiring vendors and visitors to fill up a travel declaration form and increasing the cleaning frequency of common areas.

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) will adopt a range of precautionary measures for upcoming games, which include those in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup tournament from Feb 12 to May 12. Teams from Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines are scheduled to play Singaporean sides Hougang United and Tampines Rovers here.

"We will require participants to register and provide travel declaration upon arrival at the event venue," said an FAS spokesman. Participants will be required to provide contact details for the purposes of contact tracing.

The FAS is also weighing postponing, suspending or cancelling games in the Singapore Premier League, which kicks off on Feb 29, and it said this would be decided after "a comprehensive assessment of the situation and in consultation with the relevant government authorities".

The Netball Super League, which starts today, will be played behind closed doors for now. The games will be streamed live via Netball Singapore's Facebook page.

But for the Singapore Slingers, who play Chinese Taipei side Fubon Braves in the Asean Basketball League at the Sports Hub on Sunday, the game will proceed as normal except for added temperature checks for spectators attending the event.

Tweet on school closures circulating online a fake
CNA debunks fake tweet announcing school closure due to coronavirus outbreak
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

Screenshots of a fake tweet suggesting that all schools, including polytechnics and universities, will be closed on Monday because of the coronavirus outbreak have been circulating on social media.

This is not true, the Government said on its website yesterday.

Broadcaster CNA added that the image appears to have been a doctored screengrab of a tweet it sent out yesterday afternoon.

One tell-tale sign that the image is fake is that it was watermarked with an outdated logo, CNA said.

Following the stepping up of the coronavirus outbreak alert level to code orange, the Education Ministry said yesterday that it will suspend all external school activities and inter-school activities until the end of the March school holidays.

These activities include the National School Games as well as learning journeys.

"These additional measures are intended to help schools minimise exposure of students to the public and avoid mixing of students across schools," MOE said in a statement.

Singapore had moved to code orange during the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009. The coding system was set up after the 2003 outbreak of Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon), orange means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact.

It acknowledges there is local spread, with a possibility the disease may spread even more widely across the country. It also indicates that the disease is being contained.

Gas analysis conference at Grand Hyatt Singapore linked to infections
Event was hosted by company with offices in Europe, Asia
By Tan Tam Mei and Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

The business event at the Grand Hyatt Singapore that has been linked to at least five coronavirus cases in three countries was hosted by a global gas analysis company with offices in Europe and Asia.

The conference, held over three days from Jan 20, was organised by British company Servomex, Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported.

Singapore's Ministry of Health had previously said that 109 company employees - 94 from overseas and 15 local staff - attended the conference.

A 27-year-old Singaporean man who was at the meeting is among those confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus, which originated from the central Chinese city of Wuhan. One foreign staff member at the meeting was from Wuhan.

The company did not reply to queries from The Straits Times.

Two South Koreans, aged 36 and 38, and a 41-year-old Malaysian, who were at the meeting also tested positive after returning home, sparking an investigation by the World Health Organisation.

Yesterday, a middle-aged British man who attended the meeting was also confirmed to have the virus. He is the first British national to contract the virus.

He was taken to St Thomas' Hospital in London and is currently being treated at a specialist infectious diseases unit.

A member of a lion dance troupe that had performed at the Servomex Sales Conference at the Grand Hyatt on Jan 20 said eight other troupe members performed onstage during the event.

The group learnt through news reports that it was the same business event where several attendees were later found to have contracted the coronavirus.

"We were a bit shocked. But the performance was only five to 10 minutes long and they left straight after," said the troupe member, who did not take part in the performance.

He added that his colleagues neither had direct contact with the conference members nor ate any food there. None of those in the lion dance troupe has shown any symptoms of the virus or been asked to take a leave of absence, he said, adding that members are taking precautions such as daily temperature monitoring.

Grand Hyatt Singapore's general manager Willi Martin said on Thursday that details about the three infections in the hotel were still sketchy.

"The Singapore Ministry of Health is still investigating the cases with the relevant authorities and has not advised details on how, where or when these individuals were infected with the virus," he said.

The hotel has since engaged a government-appointed external agency to conduct a thorough sanitisation of potentially impacted rooms, said Mr Martin.

Deep-cleaning measures have also been introduced in public areas, restaurants, meeting spaces, guestrooms and the hotel's spa and fitness centre.

Politicians, supermarkets urge calm amid panic-buying of groceries
No risk of shortage of essential food, household items
Shoppers urged to be calm amid panic buying at supermarts as S'pore has sufficient stocks
By Audrey Tan, Science and Environment Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

Government leaders and supermarket chain representatives yesterday called on shoppers to remain calm, saying Singapore has sufficient stocks of essential supplies and food.

This was after items began flying off the shelves at some supermarkets here after Singapore announced earlier in the day that it would be raising its disease outbreak response to the coronavirus situation by a notch to "orange", just below the highest level of "red".

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing gave his assurance in a Facebook post that Singapore's supply lines for essential supplies such as rice and instant noodles are intact.

"There is no risk of us running a shortage of essential food or household items. We also have our national stockpile for essential items," said Mr Chan, adding that his ministry is in close contact with retailers here.

Other politicians who also encouraged the public not to hoard groceries included labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng, and Workers' Party chief Pritam Singh.

Mr Singh shared a Facebook post by supermarket chain FairPrice's chief executive Seah Kian Peng telling people not to panic buy, and added: "There is no need to hoard items. We will all get through this together."

Under the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon), "orange" means the outbreak is deemed to have moderate to high public health impact.

The Government's announcement of moving its disease outbreak response up a level to "orange" came after three more Singaporeans, who did not have any links to previous cases or travel history to China, were confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus originating from China's Wuhan city.

Representatives from supermarkets also assured the public that Singapore has enough stocks of food and groceries, and urged shoppers to exercise restraint.

FairPrice's Mr Seah said there was a surge and some panic buying of food and groceries at its physical and online stores, resulting in some shelves being emptied.

He urged people to remain calm as stocks are being replenished.

Mr Seah said: "We have stocks and they are being replenished from our warehouse, but if everyone starts to buy a lot more than what they need, there will never be enough.

"I hope we all stay calm and not get into this mode of behaviour."

FairPrice has also stepped up the cleaning regime for all its stores, made available hand sanitisers for customers to use in-store, and put in place twice-daily temperature screening for all staff. Masks are distributed to staff for their use should they feel unwell.

A spokesman for Sheng Siong, another supermarket chain, also called on shoppers to avoid over-buying.

"Currently, we have sufficient inventory in Singapore for food supplies and toiletries to meet customers' usual daily needs," she said.

"Customers do not need to over-purchase on groceries and necessities. Our sources of supply are well diversified, and we will continue to work closely with our suppliers."

Meanwhile, a Singapore Food Agency (SFA) spokesman told The Straits Times that Singapore does not import livestock or raw meat from China.

But as there is no evidence that coronavirus infections are linked to food consumption, no restrictions have been imposed on food imports from China, she said.

Still, in the event of any food supply disruptions caused by the outbreak, Singapore's food supply is unlikely to be affected as Singapore imports its food from more than 170 countries.

While fresh food items such as vegetables, fruits and fish are imported from China, the country is not the Republic's only source, said the SFA spokesman. Singapore also imports from Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, the United States, Australia and South Africa.

"Diversification has always been one of our key strategies to ensure a secure supply of safe food," said the SFA spokesman. "Our importers are ready to tap other available sources should there be a disruption of food supply to minimise the overall impact on our food supply."

Supermarkets restock shelves after coronavirus concerns lead to queues; some say hoarding is 'ridiculous'
Heedless of crowds and bug, some rush to stock up on goods
By Michelle Ng, The Sunday Times, 9 Feb 2020

Toilet paper rolls, rice, instant noodles, cooking oil and other essentials are among the items flying off supermarket shelves amid concerns over the coronavirus, even as stores work steadily to restock products and reassure shoppers that there is no shortage.

A check of more than 10 supermarkets across Singapore yesterday morning saw larger than usual weekend crowds; the frenzy starting on Friday after the coronavirus outbreak alert was raised a notch from yellow to orange.

The Sunday Times visited FairPrice, Cold Storage, Sheng Siong, Isetan, Meidi-Ya and Prime supermarkets in areas like Canberra, Serangoon North, Hougang, Orchard, Holland Village, Clementi and Pasir Ris.

At the FairPrice outlet in Joo Koon, a customer had 16 bags of rice in his trolley.

Over at Pasir Ris West Plaza, domestic worker Miu Miu, 30, who queued for 45 minutes to buy the last available carton of eggs, said: "So many items are missing; it's as though the store is giving them away for free."

Cargo driver Ben Aguilar, 33, who was shopping at FairPrice in Hougang 1, said: "It has never been this crowded. I bought a lot of processed meat since all the fresh meat has already run out."

Insurance agent Jeff Chiew, 29, and his wife, who made a trip to Sheng Siong supermarket in Canberra just as it opened, said they are stocking up on instant noodles, which they do not usually eat.

He said: "Since everyone is stocking up, we're also doing the same but just buying a little more for standby. Nothing too crazy."

But not everyone is buying into the frenzy.

Mother of one Latifah Kamil, 31, described the situation as "ridiculous" and said she will not be buying anything she does not need.

"I'm a bit worried because my kid is five months old and I will take extra safety precautions, but I won't go out and stock up on food. It's not like we're stuck at home; life still goes on as usual," she said.

IT consultant Howard Chong, 39, and his wife, who were out on their weekly grocery run, decided to buy only a few more packets of frozen processed food items "just in case".

Grocery delivery slots have been snapped up, as more opt to stay home or avoid crowded places amid the spread of the coronavirus.

Checks by The Sunday Times showed that delivery slots on RedMart, FairPrice and Amazon's Prime Now were sold out.

Additional reporting by Cheryl Tan

Coronavirus: No shortage of food here, say leaders in appeal for calm amid panic buying
Masagos says there is no food shortage; MPs, President ask Singaporeans to be responsible
By Timothy Goh, The Sunday Times, 9 Feb 2020

Political leaders and experts have come out in force to call for calm and urge people to be responsible, following a second day of panic buying of provisions at stores here.

Photos and videos of empty supermarket shelves and people purchasing large amounts of food flooded social media, after Singapore raised its response level to the coronavirus outbreak from yellow to orange on Friday.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli emphasised, however, that Singapore has enough food stocks, with others like MP for Nee Soon GRC Lee Bee Wah saying that the island's supply chains remain intact, and sociologist Paulin Straughan condemning the hoarding behaviour as "irrational".

Yesterday, President Halimah Yacob urged Singaporeans not to succumb to behaviours that are "not helpful to ourselves or our community".

"The Government is giving very regular, almost daily, updates on what's happening and the current status to be absolutely upfront, but it may create a sense of urgency in people. I hope that people take this information and process it in a rational manner," she said.

Mr Masagos said the challenge is in transporting the food from warehouses to shelves islandwide so that they are always filled, and that the recent panic buying of food from stores would contribute to false impressions of a food shortage.

"This is not the way to meet challenges that our country is facing - all we have to do is keep calm," he said.

Ms Lee said: "Ironically, the only thing leading to empty shelves is the panic buying."

But she noted that it seemed to be dying down as of yesterday evening, with shorter queues and restocking efforts catching up.

"If people stop panic buying, the restocking can catch up within a day," she added, emphasising that Singapore's food supply chains remain intact.

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling felt that the panic buying revealed fears about Singapore going into a lockdown situation similar to that of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus.

"There's no curfew, there's no lockdown... just that everyone's being asked to be more cautious," she said. "People's anxiety can be fully understood, but if it's going to go into panic, that's not going to be very helpful. We need to be clearer about what situation we're in."

She added that she met residents yesterday morning and explained what going to code orange means.

"The most important thing is to keep calm - the Government and NTUC have given assurance that there's enough. But if everyone's buying much more than they need, then it'll be quite challenging," she said.

Infectious diseases expert Paul Tambyah agreed that fear of quarantine was likely driving people to stock up on groceries and other essentials.

"People are afraid that if they get quarantined, they will not be able to leave the house during the two-week quarantine period, and be unable to stock up on their favourite chocolate or other items," he said.

The Singapore Psychological Society also weighed in yesterday on its Facebook page, posting a list of seven things people here can do to help manage their fight-or-flight response to the situation.

Professor Straughan of Singapore Management University said that the food items being hoarded - tinned goods, dried food and rice - reflected a concern for the long haul. She added that most of the time, "irrational acts" such as hoarding occur when there is a lack of information, or if people do not trust the information they are given.

However, she added: "People don't act (like this) without some truth to their fears.

"We've seen situations where masks, thermometers and sanitisers have disappeared, so it feeds in to this perception that food might disappear next - or even toilet paper."

Additional reporting by Dominic Low and Michelle Ng

Adequate supplies of essentials, no need to hoard, says FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng
By Michelle Ng, The Sunday Times, 9 Feb 2020

Buy what you need, without hoarding, as there are adequate supplies of food and other essentials, said supermarket chain FairPrice's group chief executive Seah Kian Peng yesterday.

FairPrice has over nine million rolls of toilet paper, 1.2 million packs of instant noodles and four million kg of rice, with more coming in through routine daily shipments, he added.

"If you want to buy a little bit more, go ahead, but there's no need to create a stockpile at home because if everyone is trying to do it on the same day and at the same time, it adds strain to the system," said Mr Seah.

He was speaking to the media yesterday at FairPrice's Benoi Distribution Centre.

On Friday, hours after Singapore raised its disease outbreak response to the coronavirus situation from yellow to orange, items such as rice, instant noodles, toilet and tissue paper were sold out within hours in some supermarkets.

The demand for rice increased by five times, instant noodles by four times and toilet paper by 21/2 times on Friday, he said.

The frenzy was something he "did not expect", but he stressed that there is an ample stock of essential supplies and food to go around.

FairPrice has increased the volume of daily essentials being sent to the stores by three times; delivery trips have also been doubled. Prices of daily essentials will also be kept stable to deter profiteering.

"We are here to help moderate the cost of living, so we always try to hold the prices as stable and as affordable as we can," said Mr Seah.

But FairPrice may limit the purchase of certain products if the buying frenzy does not ease, he added.

It was a similar call for calm from operators of other supermarkets and online stores.

Mr Pierre Poignant, chief executive of Lazada Group, which operates RedMart, said customers who have already checked out and secured a delivery slot should use the "Order Amend" function to change or add to their existing order, so that others can secure a delivery slot too.

Mr Christopher Bush, CEO of SEA Food, Dairy Farm Group, said there was no need to purchase in bulk. He added that its stores have also reinforced their sanitisation and hygiene protocols to protect employees and customers.

FairPrice has also activated more manpower to cope with the surge in shopping. Lead hand logistic assistant Yusman Ahmad, 48, said this was one of the busiest periods in his 26 years working in the FairPrice distribution centre. Sunday is his rest day, but he is on standby to come back to work.


Discipline, processes will be strengthened after MOH DORSON Orange press release leak, says Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 9 Feb 2020

Officials should not spread information prematurely as this could cause confusion and alarm during a crisis situation, said Minister-in-charge of the Public Service Chan Chun Sing on Sunday (Feb 9).

"Internally we will make sure that our processes are strengthened and our people involved in all these know their roles well," said Mr Chan, who is part of the multi-ministry coronavirus task force.

Mr Chan was responding to questions from reporters about a Health Ministry press release on Friday announcing Singapore was moving to the orange disease outbreak status.

While the news officially broke after about 5.20pm that day, an earlier version of the release had been leaked to the public several hours before and was circulating widely on WhatsApp and other channels.

Mr Chan, who is also Trade and Industry Minister, said officials should have the discipline and maturity not to share information prematurely.

But at the same time, in order to work fast during a crisis situation, information needs to be shared simultaneously with multiple agencies, he said.

Mr Chan shared that when Singapore switched its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) to orange, all ministries had to step up measures.

The Government was able to execute changes within a few hours because it worked as a network where "everybody chipped in".

Working on a purely hierarchical process would slow down the Government's response to contingencies, he added.

"We should not swing to the other extreme because of this incident, and then therefore, slow down the whole process and in the end, fellow Singaporeans don't get the information in a timely manner," he said.

Speaking to reporters after a walkabout in Jurong West, the minister also shared that business continuity plans have kicked in for various ministries after a joint advisory to employers by the Manpower Ministry, National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation on Friday.

Temperature checks and allowing staff to work from home were among some of the measures the advisory recommended following the shift to Dorscon orange.

Mr Chan said that all private sector employers and public agencies should adopt such measures, and shared that ministries have started to make preparations for possible split team arrangements.

"(This will) make sure that we can continue to operate round the clock to serve Singaporeans, notwithstanding the challenges of the virus," he said.


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