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MERS: Temperature checks at S'pore airports from Sunday

From Sunday, passengers arriving from countries in the Middle East that have been affected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) will have their temperature checked at Singapore's airports.

SINGAPORE: From Sunday, passengers arriving from countries in the Middle East that have been affected by the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) will have their temperature checked at Singapore's airports.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday that it is an additional measure to facilitate early detection of the virus.

Some 50,000 people arrive at Singapore's Changi Airport from the Middle East every month.

So far, no cases of the MERS virus have been reported.

And experts said the risk of an outbreak in the community remains low as sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus has not been reported.

Since the beginning of this year, there have been 48 suspected cases, but all of them tested negative for the virus.

The majority of the suspected cases were pilgrims who reported a travel history to the Middle East.

But with more confirmed cases in Saudi Arabia in recent weeks, Singapore is not taking chances.

The temperature screenings at the Changi and Seletar airports are pre-emptive measures -- for passengers arriving and transiting from the Middle East.

Such screenings were also done during the SARS and H1N1 outbreaks in 2003 and 2009.

Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, director of Medical Services at MOH, said: "With today's globalised travel patterns, the possibility of an imported case cannot be ruled out.

“Because of this, we cannot be complacent, and we have already been working with our healthcare institutions and other government agencies to enhance preparedness and vigilance."

However, such screenings may not pick up all imported cases.

One reason for that is the virus has a "relatively long" incubation period of up to 14 days, as well as the presence of mild and asymptomatic cases.

But suspected cases will be transferred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital or in the case of children, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, for further assessment and testing.

Processes are in place in all acute hospitals to isolate and manage suspected cases with infection control precautions.

Dr Indumathi Venkatachalam, associate consultant at the Division of Infectious Diseases in National University Hospital, said: "This is just one of the many diseases that potentially could affect healthcare workers because of transmission.

“So there are standard infection, prevention, and control standards in all healthcare settings that are always in place. This would include -- depending on the specific virus, bacteria, or micro-bacteria -- using special types of masks, gloves and gowns."

And should Singapore have its first case of the MERS virus, contact tracing will be done to identify those who have been exposed.

They will be quarantined at home if they are Singaporeans, or in a government quarantine facility if they are foreigners.

The World Health Organisation has said on Wednesday that while concern about the virus had significantly increased, the disease was not yet a global health emergency.

 

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