Coronavirus: Returning to Singapore and going into 14-day isolation? Doctors have some dos and don'ts

Coronavirus: Returning to Singapore and going into 14-day isolation? Doctors have some dos and don'ts
People arriving in Singapore from New York at the baggage claim area in Changi Airport on March 19, 2020.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Singaporeans and residents returning to the country will all have to isolate themselves for a period of 14 days, the authorities announced on Wednesday (March 18), as the number of imported coronavirus cases grows.

Here is what families should do when picking up anyone returning home, according to two infectious diseases experts.


Dr Piotr Chlebicki, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Alvernia Hospital, said his daughter would be flying back on Friday from Sydney, where she is a student at the University of New South Wales.

He said it is important for parents to speak with their children before they board their flights to make sure they are asymptomatic.

"If they have symptoms like cough, fever or sore throat, they should not be flying. They should be considerate to other passengers," said Dr Chlebicki.

Infectious diseases expert Leong Hoe Nam said that people can be asymptomatic for two weeks, so anyone returning from abroad should be isolated for that duration.

Families must prepare a separate room, ideally with an attached bathroom, for the person, he said.

It would also be helpful to cordon off the area outside the person's room, or any shared toilet, with tape, so that it would be a visual reminder, he added.



Dr Leong, who practises at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the person arriving should wear a mask and sit alone in the back seat of the car or taxi.

Windows should be down, and the air-conditioning in the vehicle switched off, he said.

The person should avoid any direct contact like hugging or kissing, and handle his own luggage.


Dr Leong said the person must go straight to his room once he reaches his home, and avoid touching any surfaces such as doorknobs or handles.

He should wipe down his luggage in his own room, either with water or disinfectant, he added.

"Clothes should be soaked in a pail of water for at least five to 10 minutes before being placed in a washing machine."


Dr Leong said: "The general rule is that he should keep a physical distance of more than 2m apart at all times.

"A family member needs to prepare food and water and place it outside his room, and he can come out and bring it into his room."


However, Dr Chlebicki said that if the person is asymptomatic, the risk of getting infected by them is low, so there may not be a need for total separation.

The person can come out to get a drink of water, for example.

"If they cough, they could generate a droplet (that could infect others). So, it is possible to be contagious before you display symptoms.

"But asymptomatic people are inefficient in transmitting the virus because they have a smaller amount of it, compared to symptomatic people. I think there should be a risk-benefit balance - the risk of getting the virus from an asymptomatic person is low and the benefit of having your child at home is high."

But the person should still spend the bulk of the time in a separate room, he said, and family members should also observe basic hygiene such as frequent hand-washing.

Dr Leong said that if the person is using a shared bathroom, more precautions should be taken because the virus can be transmitted via surfaces. "He must wipe down what he touches before and after use, and close the (toilet) lid when flushing. The family members must also do the same."

Similarly, all "high-touch" areas in the home, such as door handles, doorknobs, taps and sinks must be cleaned frequently, he added.


The person coming from abroad should also diligently monitor and record his temperature daily during the 14 days, said Dr Leong.

"If there are any symptoms like fever or cough, or if he feels unwell, he must go straight to any public hospital emergency department and inform them that he is on stay-at-home notice," he said.

"The risk of picking up Covid-19 for people who have travelled is really much higher than the general population," he added.

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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