Sharing coronavirus patient info helped Singapore contain infection

All information on coronavirus cases is shared on a live dashboard, which includes the number of confirmed cases, infection growth rate, ICU admissions, and discharged patients.
An almost empty tourist bumboat passes a largely empty Merlion Park as tourism takes decline due to the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.(REUTERS)
An almost empty tourist bumboat passes a largely empty Merlion Park as tourism takes decline due to the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.(REUTERS)
Updated on Mar 04, 2020 04:56 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySanchita Sharma

Information about the two confirmed novel coronavirus (Covid-19) cases that surfaced in Delhi and Hyderabad came in bits and pieces from people with knowledge of the cases because the health ministry refused to share details pleading patient confidentiality.

No one wanted the patients’ names or addresses, but the government even refused to officially share the age, gender, or the extent and nature of the movement of the two persons after their arrival in India. That is unfortunate because this crucial data may have prompted people who risked catching the infection from the two persons to notify the health department and stay quarantined at home to stop the spread of the infection.

One person was a Delhi resident who recently travelled to Italy and the other was a software engineer from Hyderabad who has a travel history from Dubai.

In sharp contrast, Singapore has used transparent data sharing and stringent contact tracing as tools to contain confirmed cases to 108 despite the first four Covid-19 cases being reported early on in the epidemic that has its epicentre in China’s Wuhan. Unlike in South Korea and Japan, there have been no virus-related deaths and 78 people have recovered in the city-state.

All information on Covid-19 cases is shared on a live dashboard, which includes the number of confirmed cases, infection growth rate, ICU admissions, and discharged patients. Along with this, the age and gender distribution, areas of cluster outbreaks, date of diagnosis among others, is also shared with the public for realtime tracking of virus behaviour and the infection pattern.

Singapore reported its first Covid-19 case on January 29, and “limited local transmission” began by February 4, when four women who had not travelled to China tested positive. This was followed by half-a-dozen clusters of infections. As soon as “limited local transmission” was confirmed, Singapore’s ministry of health swung into action and asked the public to prepare for wider transmission. “There is no evidence of widespread community transmission, but despite our best efforts, Singapore could still see extensive community spread,” health minister Gan Kim Yong said at a press conference on February 4.

Singapore was among the first countries to impose travel restrictions on people who had recently been to China and other affected countries. A Chinese couple who lied about their travel history were fined under the Infectious Diseases Act, and people who lied about breached quarantine have had their residency status and work passes revoked.

“Singapore has been extremely proactive in screening and containment. There are thermal scanners at very entry and exit gate at Changi airport that offers comprehensive scanning without people having to stop or queue up, like it’s done in India. Every business office and many large condominiums have thermal scanners, and the government sends masks to RWAs {residents welfare association}. There is concern but no panic...,” said Suman Bose, founder of GoFar, a Singapore-based advisory and investment firm.

The ministry of health has also activated Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) for patients with respiratory symptoms. “People with fever and respiratory symptoms can go to the nearest clinic for subsidised treatment and medicines for as little as Singapore $10 without having to go to a hospital,” said Bose, who travelled to India on February 14 and had to queue up for close to an hour to go through the thermal scanner.

In case of escalation, the ministry of health has also asked people to be prepared for measures to reduce human interaction, such as cancelling of large events and mass gatherings, suspension of schools, avoidance of non-essential travel and services to stop the virus from spreading from local clusters to the community

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Tuesday, December 07, 2021