Temperature screening 'important' but not 'foolproof' in detecting COVID-19: Gan Kim Yong

Temperature screening 'important' but not 'foolproof' in detecting COVID-19: Gan Kim Yong

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From left to right: Director of medical services at the Ministry of Health Assoc Prof Kenneth Mak, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong speak to the media on Mar 6, 2020.

SINGAPORE: Temperature screening is an important tool in detecting COVID-19 cases, but it is not a foolproof measure and should not be regarded as the only way to identify people who are unwell, health authorities said on Friday (Mar 6).

"Temperature tests are very important because many of our COVID-19 patients eventually develop a temperature, a fever," Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at a press conference.

"But it’s not foolproof because there will also be patients where there is incubation period and they do not have a temperature, or there will also be patients at the initial stage of the disease where a temperature may not have developed."


On top of temperature-taking, Mr Gan said it is also important "to encourage people who are not well" to avoid social functions.

"If you feel unwell, please stay at home and recover. Rest and recover," said Mr Gan.

Mr Gan's comments come amid a new cluster of COVID-19 cases at SAFRA Jurong.

To date, at least eight cases have been linked to a private dinner function at the club's Joy Garden Restaurant on Feb 15.

SAFRA said that the individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 after visiting its Jurong branch had cleared mandatory temperature checks conducted at the entrance of the club, and did not have fever or any flu-like symptoms.

READ: 'Theoretical possibility' COVID-19 can spread from animals to humans, but pets not a serious vector of transmission  - MOH

"SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF PATIENTS" HAVE FEVER

"A significant number" of COVID-19 patients currently being treated in hospital had presented with fever, said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) at the press conference.

That shows that fever is a symptom that is "important" in helping the authorities identify individuals who are unwell and assess if they could have COVID-19, said Assoc Prof Mak.

At the same time, however, temperature screening should not be regarded as "the only measure" to identify people who are not well.

"In fact (there are) a number of individuals who, other than a fever, also have other symptoms including respiratory symptoms," said Assoc Prof Mak.

Assoc Prof Mak said health declarations can help identify individuals who have symptoms other than fever, such as cough, runny nose or breathlessness.

"These are important symptoms that may suggest lung infection; and lung infections, obviously at this time, COVID-19 is our greatest concern."

BORDER CONTROLS

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who was also at the press conference, said border restrictions will "at some point ... no longer be so relevant" for travellers from countries where evidence shows that the outbreak there "is clearly very well contained".

READ: New COVID-19 test kits used to screen swab samples collected at Singapore checkpoints

"China, for example, (is) working very hard and the numbers have come down. Korea's numbers have been going up, but they are doing a lot of proactive testing and they have been really vigilant in ... preventing the spread to other cities in Korea as well," said Mr Wong.

When those countries have contained the outbreak very well, the bigger risk is not importation of cases from those countries, but from countries that Singapore does not have travel restrictions on, added Mr Wong. 

On whether new border controls will be added to the current measures, Mr Wong said he "will not rule it out at this stage".

However, he also said that Singapore cannot shut itself off from the world.

"If indeed the virus is spreading equally - it’s not like you have one clear epidemic centre, but epidemics everywhere in the world and it’s become a global pandemic - then there is no basis for putting border controls unless we shut ourselves from the world, which we don’t want to," he said.

"Our sense is as the virus moves towards one where we are seeing a global pandemic, border controls will become less effective not least because the virus will be spreading everywhere," he added.

With more cases emerging in Europe and the United States, the outbreak "is starting to look like a global pandemic", said Mr Wong.

Singapore will continue to maintain surveillance at its borders and checkpoints to "vigilantly" identify people with symptoms and ask them to be tested.

"That might still remain as one level of control at the border. But beyond that, within Singapore, we still need to ... do more of what we can do within our own community to slow down the spread of the virus within Singapore itself," he said.

LOOK AT MEASURES AS A WHOLE PACKAGE: GAN KIM YONG

Mr Gan expressed confidence that collectively the various measures in place in Singapore "will be quite effective".

"We need to look at the various measures as a whole package and not any single particular measure," he said.

Part of the collective measures include the newly announced SG Clean Taskforce, aimed at ensuring the cleanliness of public spaces, encouraging good personal hygiene and adjusting social norms to reduce the spread of disease.

"This should help us to combat this COVID-19," said Mr Gan.

To date, there have been 117 cases of the coronavirus in Singapore. Another two patients were discharged on Thursday, bringing the total number of patients who have fully recovered to 81.

In Parliament on Thursday during MOH's Committee of Supply debate, Mr Gan said Singapore “must expect to see significantly higher numbers" of new COVID-19 cases, as patients are testing positive for the coronavirus at an "alarming rate" outside China.

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Source: CNA/jt

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