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Without sustained transmission, low risk of virus outbreak: Gan

SINGAPORE — As long as there is no “sustained” human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 bird flu virus or the novel coronavirus, the risk of an outbreak in Singapore will remain low, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Without sustained transmission, low risk of virus outbreak: Gan

Singapore does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry from China. Photo: AP

SINGAPORE — As long as there is no “sustained” human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 bird flu virus or the novel coronavirus, the risk of an outbreak in Singapore will remain low, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Mr Gan was speaking in Parliament yesterday, which saw five Members of Parliament (MP) flagging concerns about H7N9 and the novel coronavirus.

The most likely source of the H7N9 outbreak in China is from infected poultry and contaminated live poultry markets, while the source of the novel coronavirus — which has been reported in the Middle East and Europe — is still unclear.

In both cases, there have been no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission so far, although there have been possible incidences of limited human-to-human transmission, Mr Gan said.

Also, Singapore does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry meat from China, he added. Still, the Government has stepped up on checks. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, for instance, has increased surveillance testing on birds, including migratory birds.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has also alerted all hospitals and doctors to look out for symptoms like fever and cough.

“To date, the MOH has been notified of 11 cases who have been investigated for H7N9, and 24 who were investigated for novel coronavirus,” Mr Gan said. “None have been positive”.

If a confirmed case is detected, the Government is prepared to undertake contact tracing and phone surveillance of close contacts, and ICU isolation beds are available to manage severely ill patients, he added.

Mr Gan urged Singaporeans travelling during the June school holidays to stay updated on global disease situations and the MOH’s travel advisories.

The minister also assured the House that the MOH has been working with other government agencies to prepare for potential infectious disease outbreaks. This includes ensuring an adequate supply of hospital beds and introducing control measures like quarantine, if necessary.

Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) pointed out that the novel coronavirus might be transmitted from an infected passenger to others during a seven-to-eight hour flight from the Middle East to Singapore and asked if surveillance measures are sufficient at points of entry. He also asked Mr Gan to explain the meaning of “sustained human-to-human” transmission.

Mr Gan responded that while the World Health Organization has yet to recommend travel restrictions, Singapore has put up notices to remind travellers to take precautions.

And “sustained transmission means that there is sustained transmission beyond the immediate contact”, he said.

Asked by Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast Group Representation Constituency) about the country’s preparedness compared to previous outbreaks like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Mr Gan said Singapore is much better prepared today. While every new disease brings new challenges, the local healthcare institutions are ready, he assured.

As for Nominated MP Nicholas Fang’s question about encouraging community-driven efforts to deal with infectious diseases, Mr Gan said the MOH will continue to work with agencies and organisations to raise awareness levels among residents and healthcare workers.

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