Still too early to pin Zika's impact on economy: MTI

Still too early to pin Zika's impact on economy: MTI

SINGAPORE - It is still too early to gauge the wider economic impact of the Zika menace in Singapore, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Sim Ann told Parliament on Tuesday.

But the government is already taking "strong coordinated actions" to contain the spread of the mosquito-borne virus and any likely spillovers on the economy, she said in response to a query from Nominated Member of Parliament Randolph Tan.

"Singapore remains a safe travel destination and there is no travel restriction by the World Health Organisation to Zika-affected areas," she said.

"Zika's impact on visitor arrivals is currently contained. Nevertheless, the Singapore Tourism Board is working closely with in-market travel trade and tourism partners to proactively address concerns from potential visitors regarding travelling to Singapore."

Read also: Zika outbreak: Handful of hotel, travel bookings cancelled

While it is also premature to consider Zika-specific help for businesses, she noted that the government runs schemes that can be tapped if needed; these include Spring Singapore's Working Capital Loan, which gives loans of up to S$300,000 to small and medium-sized enterprises with short-term cash-flow problems.

Ms Sim said the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and its agencies will continue to monitor developments through the Ministry of Health and National Environment Agency, and stand ready to provide further support for businesses if necessary.

Health minister Gan Kim Yong reported that as at noon on Tuesday, 333 people had tested positive for Zika, and that this figure included eight pregnant women. He said most of these people had recovered.

Mr Gan also said that it is too early to say the outbreak is "endemic", and that Singapore's focus is on control, eradication and minimising the threat as much as possible.

Singapore is adopting a three-pronged approach in dealing with the Zika outbreak, and these are preparation, response and long-term management, he said. The Ministry of Health (MOH) has taken several steps; it made Zika a notifiable disease under the Infectious Diseases Act in January this year, and is working with partner agencies to prepare operational plans.

The ministry has also worked with the National Environment Agency to put in place a surveillance programme, said Mr Gan.

In managing the outbreak in the long-term, he said efforts will be in the area of vector control, because it is a mosquito-borne disease. Isolation and hospitalisation are not appropriate, given that most of the Zika victims show no symptoms.

"The journey in our fight against Zika is likely to be a long one because of the presence of Aedes mosquitos here," he said.

Masagos Zulkifli, the Minister for Environment and Water Resources, reported that about 748,000 inspections to uncover mosquito breeding habitats were carried out in the first seven months of this year, with more than 10,000 breeding habitats destroyed.

"Our key strategy for dengue control, and now Zika, is source reduction - the detection and removal of breeding habitats and larvae," he told Parliament.

Despite these efforts, he said, Singapore remains vulnerable to dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases because it sits in a dengue-endemic region; its warm climate and high humidity support faster breeding among the insects, and the high population density mean mosquitoes find their prey easily.

This article was first published on September 14, 2016.
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