SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Feb 8) urged Singapore to "take courage" amid an ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak and "see through this stressful time together".
The real test of the outbreak is to Singapore's social cohesion and psychological resilience, he said in a recorded message on the novel coronavirus situation in Singapore.
READ: Coronavirus outbreak: Singapore raises DORSCON level to orange; schools to suspend inter-school, external activities
PM Lee highlighted the efforts of many Singaporeans stepping up during this period, including grassroots leaders and Team Nila volunteers helping to distribute masks to households, university students delivering food to schoolmates confined to their dorms on leave of absence, and healthcare workers treating patients.
PM Lee also lauded the efforts of business federations, unions, public transport workers, noting how they have gone the extra mile to maintain services, take care of workers, and keep Singapore running.
"They are inspirations to all of us. This is what it means to be Singaporean. This is who we are," he said.
However, PM Lee said that the situation is still evolving, with each day bringing new developments, which Singapore has to respond to promptly and dynamically.
"NO NEED TO PANIC"
PM Lee noted that while most of the coronavirus cases in Singapore have either been imported, or linked to imported cases, there have been some that cannot be traced to the source of infection.
"These worried us, because it showed that the virus is probably already circulating in our own population," said Mr Lee.
As a result of the local transmissions, Singapore raised its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level to Orange on Friday.
DORSCON takes into account the current disease situation overseas, how transmissible the disease is, how likely it is to arrive in Singapore and what impact it may have on the local community.
It was also raised to Orange during the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009.
"So there is no need to panic. We are not locking down the city or confining everybody to stay at home. We have ample supplies, so there is no need to stock up with instant noodles, tinned food, or toilet paper, as some people did yesterday," he said.
If the number of cases of infection continues to grow, however, Singapore will have to reconsider its strategy, said PM Lee, as it is "futile to try to trace every contact" if the virus is widespread. Hospitals would be overwhelmed if every suspect case is hospitalised and isolated, he said.
At that point, provided the fatality rate is low, Singapore could shift its approach to encourage those with mild symptoms to see their family GP instead of going to the hospital. This way, he said, hospitals and healthcare workers would be able to focus on the most vulnerable patients instead.
However, Singapore is not at that point yet, said PM Lee.
"It may or may not happen, but we are thinking ahead and anticipating the next few steps," he said.
"And I am sharing these possibilities with you, so that we are all mentally prepared for what may come."
"WE CAN EACH DO OUR PART"
Whatever the situation, we can each do our part, said PM Lee.
People should observe personal hygiene, take their temperature twice daily, and if they are unwell, avoid crowded places and see a doctor immediately.
"These simple steps do not take much effort, but if we all do them, they will go a long way towards containing the spread of the virus," he said.
PM Lee said that he is confident of the medical outcome of the outbreak, and that most Singaporeans should remain well.
Those who fall ill should expect to recover, said PM Lee - among those who have been hospitalised so far, despite a few remaining in critical condition, most are stable or improving, with some having already been discharged after recovering.
"Fear and anxiety are natural human reactions. We all want to protect ourselves and our families from what is still a new and unknown disease. But fear can do more harm than the virus itself," he said.
"It can make us panic, or do things which make matters worse, like circulating rumours online, hoarding facemasks or food, or blaming particular groups for the outbreak.
"We should take courage and see through this stressful time together."
PM Lee concluded by urging Singaporeans to stay united and resolute during the outbreak.
"Take sensible precautions, help one another, stay calm, and carry on with our lives," he said.