Zika outbreak: Several countries issue travel advisories to S'pore, but impact still minimal

TAN WEIZHEN Today Online 31 Aug 16;

SINGAPORE — Despite several countries warning their citizens to put off non-essential trips to Singapore, travel agencies here have not seen any cancellations yet, but they are watching the situation closely given that major events such as the Formula One night race is around the corner.

Australia, South Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom have issued advisories against visiting Singapore, asking travellers to take precautions if they need to do so — after news broke of the first cluster of Zika infections here.

Pregnant women, or women who are planning to get pregnant, are advised not to travel to Singapore, and if so, to take extra precautionery measures. Australia also told its citizens not to get pregnant for two months after they return.

As of Tuesday (Aug 30), there have been 82 locally transmitted Zika cases reported in Singapore, centred in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Avenue districts, with a few cases further north from there in Kallang Way and Paya Lebar Way.

Travel agencies interviewed by TODAY said there have been no cancellations on bookings, and they would adjust their itineraries if necessary as they keep watch over the latest developments.

Ms Jane Chang, head of marketing communications at Chan Brothers Travel, said: “We will closely monitor the local situation, including updates from the Ministry of Health, as customer safety is our utmost priority. Adjustments to programmes can be made if need be, and visitations to attractions can be replaced with other indoor inclusions.”

Tour East Holdings is hoping that there would be minimal impact to travel bookings. “So many people (were) willing to travel to Brazil during the Olympics despite the high level of infection (there),” its spokesperson said, adding that those with tickets to the Formula One event happening Sept 16 to 18 here are unlikely to cancel their trips.

“If there were to be any impact, it will be those who have not made any arrangements,” she added.

The Singapore Tourism Board sought to reassure travellers that Singapore “remains a safe travel destination”. Ms Choo Huei Miin, director of visitor experience at the board, said: “The well-being and health of our visitors remain our top priority. We advise visitors to refer to the (Health Ministry’s) webpage on Zika for the latest health advisory and adopt measures to protect themselves against mosquito bites.”

For those already staying at or going to Sentosa island, the Sentosa Development Corporation urged “all to play their part in mitigation”, adding that it is “too preliminary to assess Zika’s impact on visitorship”.

The resort island has stepped up vector checks and control as a precautionary measure, its spokesperson said. “We are intensifying inspections at common areas and construction sites, including working with our island business partners and residents to do the same at their premises. Our focus is on searching and destroying any potential mosquito breeding habitats, with increased frequency of such operations.”

It, too, is monitoring the situation closely and will take action based on guidelines from the various Government agencies.

At the Aljunied area where the Zika infection cluster is, at least one food outlet has seen a drop in traffic. It and other businesses have quickly adopted measures to protect customers against mosquitoes.

Mr Phuah Teck Shin, general manager of Eco Harmony Cafe, said business has been hit hard in the past few days, although his cafe does not have any outdoor seating.

“When the news came out, everyone was scared of (going to) the area, so business has been poor since Sunday afternoon,” he said.

Now, he burns “a type of dry grass” that is said to ward off mosquitoes at the premises, and has closed all the windows.

Wang Jin Coffeeshop at Block 261 Serangoon Central Drive, just 2km away from Aljunied, has told its pest control company to step up treatments weekly. Owner Andy Wong said: “I hope Zika won’t spread to this area. Hygiene is important, and now we are spraying our premises more often than before.”

Outside of the cluster zone, Red Baron, a cafe at Gillman Barracks off Alexandra Road, is providing mosquito repellents for its customers because it has mostly outdoor seating. Co-owner Prashant Somosundram said: “We have put out bottles of these, which can easily be seen, or customers can just ask for them.”

Johor to tighten control at 6 entry points to curb Zika spread
Channel NewsAsia 30 Aug 16;

JOHOR BAHRU: The Johor government is stepping up control at six entry points in the state as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Zika virus into the country.

State Health and Environment Committee chairman, Mr Ayub Rahmat said the six entry points were the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complex at Bangunan Sultan Iskandar, Sultan Abu Bakar CIQ Complex in Tanjung Kupang, Johor Port in Pasir Gudang, Tanjung Pelepas in Gelang Patah, Puteri Harbour Ferry Terminal in Iskandar Puteri and the Stulang Laut Ferry Terminal.

"Control at the six points of entry will be tightened through screening of visitors and Malaysian citizens coming from Singapore by using thermal scanners to stop those with body temperature above 37 degrees Celsius from entering the country," he said.

Mr Ayub was speaking to reporters after observing a health screening exercise to prevent the spread of the Zika virus, held at the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex on Tuesday (Aug 30).

Mr Ayub said screening would be carried out round the clock with three shifts of personnel including doctors and staff of the Johor Health Department and Johor Bahru Health Office, with the assistance of the Immigration Department.

He said apart from screening, the department also encouraged vehicles including cars, buses and lorries using the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex and Sultan Abu Bakar CIQ Complex to have aerosol sprays in their vehicles to prevent mosquitoes from being brought in.

He said some quarters may regard the measure as trivial but it could be one of the most effective ways to combat the spread of the virus.

"It is estimated that about 50,000 vehicles enter and exit through the Bangunan Sultan Iskandar CIQ Complex daily.We don't want the people to take the Zika spread too easily," said Mr Ayub, though he added that people need not panic.

Meanwhile, on dengue in the state, Ayub said 8,662 cases were recorded from the first to 34th week ending Aug 27, compared to 9,058 cases during the same period last year.

He said there were 14 fatalities recorded during the period this year compared to 25 over the same period last year.

"This means the efforts of the Johor Health Department with the cooperation of all the district health offices to combat dengue are seeing results. We will continue to actively fight the disease in dengue sources such as housing areas, open spaces and house compounds," he said.

- Bernama/hs

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