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PM Lee: No need to panic and stock up on food, there are enough supplies

The Independent logo The Independent 9/2/2020 Hana O
Lee Hsien Loong posing for the camera © The Independent Singapore

Singapore – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged Singaporeans to work together to see through the stressful novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) situation in the country. And there is no need to panic and stock up on food because there are enough supplies.

Mr Lee said this in an official video statement from his office on Saturday (Feb 8) to give the assurance that, two weeks into the outbreak, the Government, and many Singaporeans, were doing their best to contain the virus and keep the country safe.

The Prime Minister discussed Singapore’s current status in the outbreak, the need to shift approach should the virus become widespread, and the role of Singaporeans amidst the outbreak.

Mr Lee noted that the country was better prepared to deal with the new virus, after overcoming Sars 17 years ago.

“Practically, we have stockpiled adequate supplies of masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs). We have expanded and upgraded our medical facilities, including the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID),” he said. “We are psychologically better prepared, too. Singaporeans know what to expect and how to react.”

Mr Lee highlighted two differences between Sars and the new coronavirus: One, that the latter is more infectious than Sars and, two, that the latter is much less dangerous than Sars. While Sars had an estimated 10 per cent mortality rate, the new virus (outside Hubei province) has a mortality rate of 0.2 per cent, similar to seasonal influenza’s rate of 0.1 per cent.

“But the situation is still evolving. Every day brings new developments, and we have to respond promptly and dynamically,” he added.

Strict measures were being implemented in contact tracing imported cases of the new virus. Once discovered, the patients are isolated and quarantined, including their close contacts, to help stop the spread of the virus.

The Prime Minister also explained the need to raise the DORSCON alert level to Orange, due to some cases which could not be traced to the source of infection. “This worried us because it showed that the virus is probably already circulating in our own population.”

As added measures, “we are reducing mingling in schools. We are tightening up access to our hospitals, and we are taking extra precautions at large public events”, he said. “I have already postponed my Chinese New Year Istana Garden Party for grassroots leaders, which was to be held tomorrow.”

Mr Lee recounted that the DORSCON alert level was raised to Orange in the past during the H1N1 swine flu, “so there is no reason to panic, we are not locking down the city or confining everybody to stay at home”.

“We have ample supplies. There is no need to stock up with instant noodles or tinned food or toilet paper, as some people did yesterday,” he added.

Each person could do his part to contain the spread of the virus, such as observing personal hygiene, taking one’s temperature twice a day and immediately seeking a doctor when unwell. “These simple steps do not take much effort, but if we all do them, they will go a long way towards containing the spread of the virus,” he said.

Shifting the approach

The Prime Minister added that a change of strategy would be adopted if the number of cases keeps growing. “If the virus is widespread, it is futile to try to trace every contact. If we still hospitalise and isolate every suspect case, our hospitals will be overwhelmed. At that point, provided the fatality rate stays low like flu, we should shift our approach.”

For example, those who only have mild symptoms would be encouraged to see their family doctor and rest at home instead of going to the hospital to allow for health workers to focus on the most vulnerable patients like the elderly, young children and those with medical complications.

The Prime Minister noted that the situation was not at that point yet but added that the Government was “thinking ahead and anticipating the next few steps”.

Mr Lee said he was confident that most Singaporeans should remain well and that, of those who get sick, most were expected to recover.

The real test

“But the real test is to our social cohesion and psychological resilience,” said the Prime Minister, who stressed the importance of staying calm at this time. Circulating rumours online, hoarding facemasks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak would only make matters worse.

“Instead, we should take courage and see through this stressful time together.” He mentioned that grassroots leaders, volunteers, university students, healthcare workers, unions, business federations and many more were working to address the outbreak and keep Singapore running. /TISG

Photos: Coronavirus outbreak

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