Without sustained transmission, low risk of virus outbreak: Gan

Singapore does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry from China. Photo: AP
Nh Jing Yng Today Online 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE — As long as there is no “sustained” human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 bird flu virus or the novel coronavirus, the risk of an outbreak in Singapore will remain low, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Mr Gan was speaking in Parliament yesterday, which saw five Members of Parliament (MP) flagging concerns about H7N9 and the novel coronavirus.

The most likely source of the H7N9 outbreak in China is from infected poultry and contaminated live poultry markets, while the source of the novel coronavirus — which has been reported in the Middle East and Europe — is still unclear.

In both cases, there have been no evidence of sustained person-to-person transmission so far, although there have been possible incidences of limited human-to-human transmission, Mr Gan said.

Also, Singapore does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry meat from China, he added. Still, the Government has stepped up on checks. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority, for instance, has increased surveillance testing on birds, including migratory birds.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has also alerted all hospitals and doctors to look out for symptoms like fever and cough.

“To date, the MOH has been notified of 11 cases who have been investigated for H7N9, and 24 who were investigated for novel coronavirus,” Mr Gan said. “None have been positive”.

If a confirmed case is detected, the Government is prepared to undertake contact tracing and phone surveillance of close contacts, and ICU isolation beds are available to manage severely ill patients, he added.

Mr Gan urged Singaporeans travelling during the June school holidays to stay updated on global disease situations and the MOH’s travel advisories.

The minister also assured the House that the MOH has been working with other government agencies to prepare for potential infectious disease outbreaks. This includes ensuring an adequate supply of hospital beds and introducing control measures like quarantine, if necessary.

Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West) pointed out that the novel coronavirus might be transmitted from an infected passenger to others during a seven-to-eight hour flight from the Middle East to Singapore and asked if surveillance measures are sufficient at points of entry. He also asked Mr Gan to explain the meaning of “sustained human-to-human” transmission.

Mr Gan responded that while the World Health Organization has yet to recommend travel restrictions, Singapore has put up notices to remind travellers to take precautions.

And “sustained transmission means that there is sustained transmission beyond the immediate contact”, he said.

Asked by Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast Group Representation Constituency) about the country’s preparedness compared to previous outbreaks like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, Mr Gan said Singapore is much better prepared today. While every new disease brings new challenges, the local healthcare institutions are ready, he assured.

As for Nominated MP Nicholas Fang’s question about encouraging community-driven efforts to deal with infectious diseases, Mr Gan said the MOH will continue to work with agencies and organisations to raise awareness levels among residents and healthcare workers.

11 investigated for H7N9, 24 for novel coronavirus; none positive
Hetty Musfirah Abdul Khamid Channel NewsAsia 13 May 13;

SINGAPORE: Eleven people in Singapore have been investigated for the avian flu virus H7N9 and another 24 for novel coronavirus to date.

But none was positive.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who revealed this in Parliament on Monday, said that so long as there is no sustained human-to-human transmission of the two diseases, the risk of an outbreak in Singapore will remain low.

Mr Gan said the H7 avian influenza virus has not been detected in tests on local and imported birds.

Singapore also does not import live poultry, birds or frozen poultry meat from China.

A potential concern, however, is the transmission of H7N9 to Singapore via migratory birds carrying the virus.

So surveillance testing on such birds has been stepped up.

Mr Gan said Singapore still needs to be vigilant against the possibility of cases in travellers coming to Singapore.

Hospitals have been asked to look out for suspect cases of both H7N9 and novel coronavirus.

Mr Gan assured the House that plans are in place if there is a pandemic.

He said: "We have worked with hospitals and clinics to ensure that there is adequate surge capacity in healthcare infrastructure and beds.

"At the national level, we have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and antiviral stockpiles (for influenza), which can be deployed should the need arises.

"Possible control measures include isolation of cases, quarantine of close contacts and social distancing measures to reduce community transmission, if necessary.

"With our experience in SARS, we are now much better prepared than 10 years ago.

"However with each new infectious disease, it will bring in new experiences, new challenges, new threats and therefore it is a continuing journey.

"So, our healthcare institutions are working together preparing for the possibility of the arrival of H7N9 or novel coronavirus patients in Singapore.

"I think our institutions are ready and will be able to manage them."

- CNA/ir

Singapore better prepared to deal with epidemics
It is much better equipped than during Sars crisis: Health Minister
Tracy Quek Straits Times 14 May 13;

SINGAPORE is much better prepared today than it was during the 2003 Sars epidemic to handle infectious disease outbreaks, including the H7N9 strain of bird flu and a deadly new Sars-like virus, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Still, the health authorities, government agencies, hospitals and doctors remain vigilant and are monitoring for the possibility of H7N9 or novel coronavirus (NCoV) cases in travellers to Singapore as well as transmission in the community, he added.

NCoV is from the same family as Sars, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, and its source remains unclear.

The risk of an H7N9 or NCoV outbreak in Singapore remains low currently, he said, as there has been no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission of both diseases worldwide.

Mr Gan was replying to four MPs, including Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) and Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC).

"With each new infectious disease it will bring in new experiences, new challenges, new threats. Therefore it is a continuing journey of learning," he said.

"Our health-care professionals, our health-care institutions are working together preparing for the possibility of the arrival of H7N9 or NCoV in Singapore."

He added: "Our institutions are ready and will be able to manage them."

Since the first H7N9 infections were reported in China this March, there have been 130 confirmed cases, including 35 deaths. Infected poultry and contaminated live poultry markets are the most likely sources of infection.

The first NCoV infection was reported last September. Since then, there have been 34 confirmed cases worldwide, including in Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, with 18 deaths.

On whether there were enough hospital beds should the two viruses strike, Mr Gan said hospitals had been working with his ministry to expand capacity at short notice.

The extra beds could be freed up fast by deferring elective surgery operations and speeding up the discharge of medically stable patients, he added.

Hospitals are ready to respond to emergency cases, he said.

To deal with the possibility of infected travellers, the Health Ministry has alerted all hospitals and doctors to look out for suspect cases with such symptoms as fever, cough and signs of pneumonia, and previous travel to affected regions.

Suspect cases will be isolated and tested for H7N9 or NCoV, Mr Gan said.

So far, the Health Ministry has investigated 11 notified cases for H7N9 and 24 for NCoV. None was positive.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority is also testing imported poultry, inspecting pet shops and monitoring birds in wetland reserves including migratory birds, Mr Gan said.