SINGAPORE: Singapore “must expect to see significantly higher numbers" of new COVID-19 cases in time to come, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday (Mar 5).
“Globally, the number of cases outside mainland China continues to grow at an alarming rate across continents and regions. This is worrying as they pose a high risk of importation of cases into Singapore," said Mr Gan, speaking in Parliament during the Ministry of Health's (MOH) Committee of Supply debate.
"Therefore, we must expect to see significantly higher numbers of new cases in time to come."
Two new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Wednesday, bringing the total number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore to 112. Of these, 79 have been discharged while 33 remain in hospital.
Singapore has implemented precautionary measures including travel advisories and restrictions, temperature screening, contact tracing and quarantine.
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In response to questions on the effectiveness of Singapore’s current strategy, he said: “We have to appreciate that every outbreak is different.
"COVID-19 is different from SARS, and different from H1N1. Even as we do our best to learn from each outbreak and prepare for the next, we must always expect the unexpected.”
Singapore has to adopt a Whole of Government approach and mobilise the resources of all the relevant agencies to mount a swift and effective response, said Mr Gan.
“This will allow us to assess, decide and execute our response quickly. It is important to be transparent too and share the information we know as soon as possible,” he added.
“This will help to preserve the trust between the people and the government so that we can have the support of the public as we work together to fight COVID-19.”
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Mr Gan also said it is “crucial to counter and respond decisively to fake news", to avoid diversion of resources and prevent disruptions to efforts.
The international scientific community has been studying the virus, sharing new findings and developing solutions, he said, adding that Singapore is sharing its best practices, research and knowledge on COVID-19 with other countries.
After scientists from China published the genetic sequence of the COVID-19 virus on Jan 12, Singapore’s National Public Health Laboratory developed a specific Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) diagnostic test within just over a week, Mr Gan noted.
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) developed a PCR test kit shortly after, which has been used locally and shared with international partners to help identify patients and contain the disease, he added. Singapore’s scientists are also participating in international clinical trials for treatments and vaccines.
In response to a question from Workers’ Party’s Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim, who asked about the use of blood plasma, Mr Gan confirmed that there are plans to use blood plasma to treat COVID-19 patients, and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) is collecting blood plasma from patients.
However, he also noted that there are some constraints in using blood plasma for the treatment of COVID-19.
Mr Gan noted that it “may take some time” before effective treatments and vaccines become available.
“As the global situation evolves, many countries may become infected. It will become increasingly difficult to stop the virus at our borders as we cannot ban visitors from every country and shut ourselves out from the world,” he said.
“Even amongst our closest neighbours, the situation is evolving. Therefore, it is likely that this disease will stay with us for a long time and we will have continuously adjust, fine-tune, our measures to deal with the disease so that life can go on while appropriate precautions are put in place.”
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On Tuesday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced that Singapore will block entry and transit for new visitors who travelled to Iran, northern Italy or South Korea within the last 14 days.
The measure, which took effect on Wednesday, is among the additional precautions Singapore is taking to help reduce the risk of imported cases in Singapore.
Mr Gan thanked healthcare workers for their contributions and dedication, stressing that they are well-trained on infection control and prevention, and are provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for their safety.
"The senior management of our three healthcare clusters have informed me that as a gesture of solidarity with our healthcare workers, they will donate their own Special Bonuses to the staff welfare fund of their respective clusters," the health minister said.
"The details of the special bonus will be released in due course, but for now our focus is to keep up our fight to contain the spread of COVID-19."
Mr Gan was referring to a special bonus for frontline healthcare workers announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during Budget 2020.