PM Lee says Singapore 'better prepared' for another virus after SARS outbreak

PM Lee says Singapore 'better prepared' for another virus after SARS outbreak

NCID tests for Wuhan virus
Testing for the virus is done in-house under strict protocol. 

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (Jan 23) that Singapore is "much better prepared" to deal with another virus outbreak since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003.

“We have been preparing for this since SARS,” said Mr Lee, who was speaking at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Mr Lee was speaking before the first case of Wuhan virus in Singapore was confirmed.

READ: Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

READ: China halts flights and trains out of Wuhan as WHO extends talks

The Wuhan virus is a new coronavirus that has sickened hundreds of people and killed at least 17.

“After SARS, we made a thorough review of what of the facilities we had – the infrastructure, hospitals, isolation wards, and the scientific testing and capabilities," said Mr Lee. 

“I think we are much better prepared now,” Mr Lee said, also highlighting the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases, which opened in late 2018.

The Ministry of Health on Thursday announced that the first confirmed Wuhan virus case in Singapore was a 66-year-old Chinese man.

The Wuhan resident, who arrived in Singapore with his family on Jan 20, flew from Guangzhou. He is currently in isolation at the Singapore General Hospital and is in stable condition. 

MORE: Our coverage of the Wuhan virus and its developments

READ: Wuhan virus in Singapore: What we know about the confirmed cases

“Science has made a lot of progress since SARS, so this time with a new coronavirus, the scientists have been able to identify and sequence it much faster than happened with SARS and share the information with other countries in a much more expeditious way,” said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee said that China has also made progress in dealing with such public health emergencies.

“They understand now that pretending that nothing is wrong, is not the right thing to do,” he said.

“The more open they are, the more effective they can be in dealing with it and better that they can cooperate with other countries.”

READ: Wuhan virus - What we know about the fatalities

READ: Singapore companies with projects in Wuhan step up precautionary measures ​​​​​​​

Two cities in Hubei, where most of the cases have been found, were put under lock down on Thursday, to fight the coronavirus. Most transport in Wuhan and Huanggang were suspended and people were told not to leave.

Mr Lee added that Singapore has to be psychologically prepared and also operationally ready to respond to a virus outbreak.

“It looks like this virus is not as lethal as SARS, but you do not know. It can mutate. We have to be as prepared as we can,” said Mr Lee. 

An inter-ministerial committee, which is co-chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, is working with different agencies in Singapore to respond in a coordinated manner, he said.

Mr Lee added that the Government was “doing what we need to do”, and reminded the public to take necessary precautions without the need to panic.

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Source: CNA/ad(hm)

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