SINGAPORE: Singapore has confidence that China and other countries will work together to win the battle against the Wuhan coronavirus, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (Feb 1).
Speaking at a Chinese New Year Celebration in Teck Ghee, Mr Lee said that everyone is concerned about the coronavirus as some may recall when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit Singapore in 2003.
“We did not know how long it would last, and we worried about our loved ones being infected. But we stayed united and dealt with the crisis together."
Since then, Mr Lee said that Singapore has become better prepared with medical facilities like the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and healthcare professionals who are trained to deal with this scenario.
“So I have every confidence that we can overcome the challenge before us,” he said.
Referring to Singapore’s decision to restrict entry to new visitors of any nationality with recent travel history to mainland China, Mr Lee said it was a pre-emptive measure taken purely to protect Singapore’s public health.
He added that China is doing all it can to contain the coronavirus spread, including imposing their own travel restrictions within China, cancelling outbound tour groups and bringing back Hubei residents from overseas.
“It is a much stronger response than they took when SARS first broke out, so our efforts ... will complement China’s efforts," he said.
"We wish China well in their efforts to fight the virus,” Mr Lee added.
Regrettably, sentiment against those from the People’s Republic of China has emerged in the last few days in many countries, said Mr Lee, adding that such sentiments are “not helpful at all”.
“The virus may have started in China but it doesn’t respect nationality or race. It doesn't check your passport before it goes into your body and anybody can be infected."
Mr Lee stressed that the coronavirus situation should be seen as a public health issue and not as a race or international diplomatic problem.
READ: 'I saw Singapore's first SARS case; I’m still alive and standing': At the frontline of the Wuhan coronavirus
Mr Lee noted that while the situation with the new coronavirus bears some similarities to SARS, it also is somewhat different.
The new virus seems to be less lethal than SARS but is also more infectious. Patient may also be asymptomatic when they are infectious, which makes detection difficult.
Hence, Mr Lee said that Singapore has to work harder to isolate suspect cases as soon as they are identified, and contain the virus from spreading in the community.
Another difference from SARS is that Singapore did not have social media back then.
In a crisis, Mr Lee said social media has been both a boon and a bane as there is now a lot more information circulating online, on WhatsApp and on Facebook, including misleading rumours and false information.
Mr Lee said some of these go viral because people are anxious and want to share information without verifying it.
Such rumours can easily amplify anxieties and make it harder for people to get the correct information they need, and can even spark fear and panic, he added.
“So I strongly advise everybody, if you hear something shocking ... check with proper channels, check from trusted places.”
Members of the public can also subscribe to the Government WhatsApp channel to get the latest updates.
Mr Lee said everyone can also play their part to be responsible for their own and their families’ safety by practising good personal hygiene and washing their hands frequently.
Those who have a fever, or show symptoms of a cold, should put on a mask and see the doctor.
“We know that some of you are worried as you could not buy your own masks."
READ: Minimal queues, thin crowds: First day of free mask collection largely proceeds without a hitch
Mr Lee ended his speech by calling on Singapore to remain resilient and calm, respond to the situation as one united nation, and “show care and concern for our fellow human beings”.
He added that everyone should continue with their lives as much as possible and that he has confidence Singapore will get through this situation together as it is well-prepared and has dealt with worse situations before.