Dengue epidemic: Time for NEA to get tough on uncooperative residents

SINGAPORE - So we're in the middle of an epidemic. Sometimes, though, it's easy to forget that.

Especially when National Environment Agency (NEA) officers end up giving second chances to residents who refused to let them in when the officers want to inspect their homes for signs of mosquito breeding.

On Friday, when The New Paper followed these NEA officers on their rounds in Yishun, it happened twice.

One elderly female resident told the officers that her house does not have plants, so they did not need to go in to check.

The officers tried to convince her, but ended up passing her a dengue brochure before leaving.

There were about five potted plants outside her flat.

The second resident just shook his head repeatedly, insisted his home had no mosquitoes and closed the door after a while.

The NEA officers said they might return later to the two flats to see if the occupants were more cooperative then.

TNP understands that if residents continue to be uncooperative, the NEA can write in to them and send its officers to inspect the premises at another time.

When TNP checked with the agency later, it said that legal notices would be served to require residents who refuse to open up to do so at a specific time.

If the homeowner does not contact NEA to arrange a time and date, it can invoke Section 36 of the Control of Vectors and Pesticides Act (CVPA) to enter the home with or without the owner's permission.

NEA said that a period of two weeks is "usually required" before Section 36 is invoked.

From this month onwards, this has been cut down to a week for blocks with a growing number of dengue cases.

I'm sorry, but a week's notice when we are facing what one minister calls potentially the country's "worst epidemic"?

A week is enough time for a mosquito to lay its egg and for the larvae to become mosquitoes.

Not good enough

That is simply not good enough if we are determined to stamp out the disease. Section 36 of the CVPA also says that in cases of emergency, the Director-General of Public Health may order the "immediate execution" of work which he deems necessary for the safety of the public and for public health.

The question then is - when is this considered enough of an "emergency"?

Section 35 of the same Act does give a timeframe - 12 hours. This is the length of time that an officer cannot enter a home without giving its owner prior notice.

This sounds like a more reasonable timeframe to be able to enter the homes of uncooperative residents.

There are more dengue cases so far this year than the whole of last year and everyone from the Prime Minister down is reminding Singaporeans of that.

We don't need more campaigns and advertisements to drive home that point.

We need tough action.

And we need NEA to be the bad guys.

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