Singapore among Asian nations doing well in Covid-19 fight: WHO adviser

More than 33,000 people in Singapore have been infected with the coronavirus.
PHOTO: Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

Asian countries such as South Korea, Vietnam and Singapore are doing well in their fight against Covid-19, a World Health Organisation (WHO) adviser said, as he praised their efforts to increase hospital capacity, perform contact tracing and isolate patients.

"You have been prepared after the Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome) or the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) corona outbreaks that have occurred in the past years," said Professor David Heymann, who chairs the independent Strategic and Technical Advisory Group for Infectious Hazards, comprising international experts, that advises the WHO.

"You have developed the capacity you need in your hospitals to deal with a surge.

"You have also been able to do contact tracing and isolation of patients, which many countries in the rest of the world abandoned very early.

"The best examples are what is going on in Singapore, in Hong Kong, in Taiwan and South Korea, and in Vietnam. You have been able to keep the reproductive number low, you have been using these unique 'circuit breakers' instead of just locking down everything at once," Prof Heymann said during a panel discussion hosted by The Straits Times yesterday.

Read Also
Singapore's Covid-19 circuit breaker ends on June 1; economy to reopen in three phases
Singapore's Covid-19 circuit breaker ends on June 1; economy to reopen in three phases

Singapore's circuit breaker measures will be eased in three phases from Tuesday. About 75 per cent of the economy can resume operations in phase one.

The second phase will see almost the entire economy resuming operations, and this could happen sometime before the end of next month, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Thursday.

Earlier this month, selected businesses such as hairdressers and pet supply stores had been allowed to raise their shutters, subject to certain restrictions.

Prof Heymann, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "We have to learn to live with this disease while it is with us, and the best way to do that is to begin to cautiously - with the systems of monitoring in place - open up schools, open up businesses and get on with life, as is happening now in Europe."

Over 33,000 in Singapore have been infected with the coronavirus.

Hundreds of new cases, mostly low-wage migrant workers living in dormitories, are reported daily.

While Singapore was praised for the way it handled the coronavirus epidemic in the initial days, the subsequent surge in infections in crowded migrant worker dormitories sparked criticism from rights groups and other observers, with people calling on the authorities to improve workers' living conditions.

Read Also
WHO praises Singapore's response to coronavirus outbreak
WHO praises Singapore's response to coronavirus outbreak

The other Asian economies mentioned by Prof Heymann have reported a far lower number of infections. Vietnam and Taiwan, for example, have had hundreds.

South Korea, which has around 11,400 Covid-19 cases, has re-imposed social distancing measures which had been eased previously.

This came as officials announced 79 new cases on Thursday - the country's biggest spike in new infections since 81 new cases were announced on April 5.

Also on the panel was Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

Asked where the most likely places of transmission could be when the circuit breaker ends, he suggested that the risk level depends on whether people take the necessary precautions.

"Nobody can guarantee that when we ease some of these restrictive measures, there will not be a resurgence," he said.

"What we do know, based on data from Singapore and the rest of the world, is that the coronavirus spreads best when people are interacting in fairly close proximity, perhaps over an extended time, be it talking or eating together."

Asked if the coronavirus could survive in swimming pools, Prof Heymann said there have been no outbreaks linked to swimming pools.

Fellow panellist Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, added: "But don't forget, we are not going to be in the water all the time...

"If you go to the toilet, how do you use the facilities? Is it going to be crowded?"

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here

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