SINGAPORE: Schools, pre-schools and eldercare facilities will suspend large gatherings as part of enhanced measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus among vulnerable groups, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Feb 4).
Businesses and employers have also been urged to implement heightened measures if the need arises.
The measures were laid out as the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced Singapore's first "local transmission" of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China.
Schools will suspend mass assemblies, stagger recess times, as well as cancel camps and introduce visitor management.
Pre-schools will likewise cease large group and communal activities, excursions and field trips, and increase the frequency of temperature taking.
Co-curricular activities and after-school programmes may continue in smaller groups, said the Ministry of Education (MOE).
"The aim is to circumscribe the intermingling of students by not conducting mass level learning activities. We will be implementing them from this week beginning with immediately with no mass flag raising ceremonies," said director of schools at MOE Liew Wei Li.
"We will also be ring-fencing our schools to keep them safe and our students safe by instituting visitor management measures, such as by taking the visitor's temperature before they step into the school.
"And we would also check the travel history, such as if they have recent travel history to mainland China, they will not be allowed into our schools to interact with our students."
Schools are familiar with such measures because they have previously implemented them to manage the spread of diseases such as H1N1 and SARS, said Ms Liew.
Eldercare facilities will also stop outings and large gatherings.
"We are closely monitoring the situation, and will calibrate our posture accordingly as new developments arise," said MOH, adding that existing travel restrictions, and quarantine and leave of absence measures will continue to help contain the risk of spread.
But "despite our best efforts, Singapore could still see extensive community spread", said Mr Gan.
"At that point, we will need to consider measures to reduce human-to-human interaction, such as cancelling mass gatherings, suspending schools and paring down non-essential services, and introducing further infection-control and monitoring measures to slow the spread."
Six new patients - including four locally transmitted cases - were announced on Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Singapore to 24.
"Though this cluster constitutes limited local transmission, there is as yet no evidence of widespread sustained community transmission," MOH said.
"Singapore has been preparing for such clusters, and our measures implemented thus far have been directed towards preventing and containing the risk of spread beyond such local clusters to the broader community.
"As we have stepped up our surveillance, we expect to see more such local clusters in Singapore, including cases of local transmission."
Mr Gan said his ministry is contacting individuals with profiles similar to the four locally transmitted cases, who have had recent close contact with individuals with travel history to mainland China.
Surveillance efforts have also been expanded to test all individuals with pneumonia at Singapore hospitals for the coronavirus since last week.
Likely modes of transmission, based on current evidence, are mainly through contact with droplets from infected individuals, said MOH, adding that the virus can also transmit through surface contact.
The most effective method to prevent such transmission is through good personal hygiene and social responsibility on the part of those who are unwell, said the ministry.
CLEANING OF PUBLIC AREAS, SOP FOR SICK EMPLOYEES & CUSTOMERS
Employers in Singapore have so far got their staff members to declare their travel history, implemented health monitoring, put employees who recently travelled to China on leave of absence and implemented flexible working arrangements.
"But as the situation evolves, we will step our posture accordingly to further contain transmission in Singapore," said Mr Gan.
Businesses and organisations, including food and beverage outlets, retail shops and hotels, are advised to increase frequency of cleaning, said permanent secretary at the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) Aubeck Kam.
This applies especially to areas with high traffic or human contact, including counters where customers are served, rooms where visitors are hosted and public areas such as lifts, handrails, pantries, toilets and bin areas.
The measures are outlined in a general advisory written by MOM, Ministry of Trade and Industry, the National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation.
Organisations should follow sanitation and hygiene advisories which have been given by the National Environment Agency (NEA), said the advisory.
Clear guidance should be set for frontline staff members when encountering customers who are unwell, it added. For example, they could advise customers looking unwell to see a doctor, and reschedule appointments or offer other modes of service.
If it is necessary to provide urgent services to sick customers, proper procedures should be observed. For instance, staff members could put on a surgical mask and separate sick customers from other customers.
Individual workers should wash their hand frequently, cover themselves if they cough or sneeze, and keep their hands away from the face.
Mr Kam also added that on top of these good personal hygiene practices, they should take their own temperature regularly and be mindful of respiratory symptoms.
If they are unwell, they should wear a mask, seek medical attention promptly and stay away from the workplace.
Those with no symptoms and are well need not wear a mask.
The measures are intended to pre-empt the possibility of general community spread, and employers should be vigilant and ready to implement further heightened measures should the situation require it.