Wuhan virus revives post-SARS worries in Singapore

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2020   •   1267

A passenger shows an illustration of the coronavirus on his mobile phone at Guangzhou airport in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China, 23 January 2020. EPA-EFE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI

By Tom Benner

Singapore
– After a mysterious virus originating from China was brought to Singapore by an unassuming traveler from Hong Kong in 2003, the island-nation and its ethnic Chinese majority population were hit hard.

The threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) caused widespread public panic, prompting school closures and inflicting economic damage to business and tourism. People bought face masks or remained indoors. Some 238 people were infected and 33 killed in Singapore. All told, SARS killed nearly 800 people worldwide during the 2002/03 outbreak.

Those memories remain fresh as a new SARS-like coronavirus originates from the city of Wuhan, China – just a 4-and-a-half-hour flight from Singapore, with direct daily flights between the two cities – and has spread to other Chinese cities and abroad.

With Singapore’s Changi Airport one of the world’s busiest for international traffic, and hundreds of millions preparing to travel this weekend throughout the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore is on high-alert for the already deadly the Wuhan virus. Many Singaporeans have family ties in mainland China, and the coming weekend marks peak travel time – the beginning of the Lunar New Year, or Chinese New Year, with its traditional family reunions.

Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier Scoot on Thursday canceled its daily flight to Wuhan.

Singaporean health authorities this week began screening all inbound passengers arriving from China to spot and contain the disease, and are issuing health advisory notices. Earlier in the outbreak, only travelers from Wuhan were screened, and advisory notices were not issued.

In addition, Singapore’s Ministry of Health and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases are distributing clinical guidance about the disease to emergency room and infectious diseases physicians, as well as to hospital laboratories.

Health experts say Singapore is vulnerable to the Wuhan virus but feel a situation like SARS in 2003 is unlikely to reoccur in Singapore now.

“The healthcare system and hospitals are far better prepared today, with improved surveillance systems, medication and equipment (including masks) stockpiles, and a state of the art 330-bed facility in the National Centre for Infectious Diseases that was built to precisely avoid a repeat of the SARS debacle,” said Hsu Li Yang, head of the Infectious Diseases Programme at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

“A whole of government approach to crisis management has also been developed post-SARS,” he added.

Singapore’s senior minister of State for Health and Transport, Lam Pin Min, said in a Facebook post that Singapore is concerned about the increase in cases of novel coronavirus pneumonia just as increased travel is expected during the festive season.

Lam urged the public to remain vigilant and adopt hygienic practices such as avoiding contact with live animals including poultry and birds and consumption of raw and undercooked meats; and avoiding close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness.

Ethnic Chinese make up the majority of Singapore’s 5.7 million population, at 76 percent, many with family ties to mainland China, and almost a fifth of new immigrants are from the mainland, according to the UN.

The SARS epidemic in 2003 drastically hurt air travel between China and Singapore at that time, aviation experts say, but air travel between the two countries has since grown at a rapid pace, along with more mainland Chinese moving to Singapore.

Air traffic between the two countries in the last decade registered an average annual growth rate of more than 8 percent, said Simin Ngai, dashboard editor for Asia at travel industry analyst Cirium. EFE-EPA

tb/tw

Philippines gets another 3M doses of Sinovac vaccines

Marje Pelayo   •   September 20, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — Another three million doses of CoronaVac from China arrived in the Philippines on Sunday (September 19) bringing the total number of COVID-19 vaccines delivered to the country to 62,359,810 since February.

NTF chief implementer and vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, Jr. and Police Major Marvin Oloab witnessed the arrival of the vaccines at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) past 6:00 p.m. via a commercial Philippine Airlines flight.

Galvez said the newest vaccine shipment will be distributed to Regions 3, 4-A, 7, 11 and the National Capital Region (NCR).

Galvez admitted that the national government is facing challenges in vaccinating the senior citizens due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Talagang ayaw lumabas ng mga matatanda para magpabakuna dahil takot pa rin ngayon dahil tumaas ang kaso,” he said.

“Palagay ko, kapag bumaba na ang kaso natin later on [at] iyong mga nabakunahan na mga senior [ay] lumabas na, palagay ko, magkakaroon ng incentives for all our seniors to go out,” Galvez added.

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WHO monitoring new coronavirus variant called ‘Mu’

Aileen Cerrudo   •   September 1, 2021

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said it is monitoring a new coronavirus variant called Mu.

According to the WHO bulletin on Tuesday (August 31), the Mu variant or B.1.621, has been classified as a “variant of interest.”

The variant was first detected in Columbia on January 2021 and was designated as a variant of interest on August 30, 2021.

Preliminary data showed that the Mu variant has the same behavior as the Beta variant. However, the WHO added that the data still needs to be confirmed by further studies.

“The Mu variant has a constellation of mutations that indicate potential properties of immune escape,” the bulletin said.

There are currently five variants of interests namely Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, and the Mu variant. Variants of interest are defined by the WHO as variants “identified to cause significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside increasing number of cases over time.” AAC

HK closely monitors COVID situation in PH; to accept vax records starting Sept. 1

Marje Pelayo   •   August 31, 2021

The government of Hong Kong announced on Monday that it will accept vaccination records of inbound travelers coming from the Philippines effective September 1.

In a press release, the Hong Kong government said it has updated its list of places with recognized vaccination records adding the Philippines and Indonesia.

“Hong Kong residents who hold vaccination records affirmed by the relevant authorities of these two countries can board a flight for Hong Kong from Group A specified places,” it said.

As for foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), they need to go through standard health procedures upon arrival.

“Foreign domestic helpers holding vaccination records that have been affirmed by the relevant authorities of Indonesia or the Philippines must follow the quarantine arrangements as announced by the Government on August 26, including undergoing 21-day compulsory quarantine in a designated quarantine facility. As for other Hong Kong residents, they can undergo compulsory quarantine in regular designated quarantine hotels,” said Hong Kong’s Secretary of Labor and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong.

The updated policy applies to countries considered as ‘Group A’ places in Hong Kong’s travel list.

Hong Kong labels countries/territories with ‘high risks’ of COVID-19 infection as Group A places.

These are Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, France, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Malaysia, Nepal, the Netherlands, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Dr Law Chi-kwong added that while the Hong Kong government recognizes the high demand for foreign domestic helpers (FDHs) in the country, they have to impose strict measures because of the COVID-19 variants, particularly the Delta that has been spreading very rapidly.

“We have to ensure that we will not be allowing the virus to infiltrate into our community. Thus, we on one hand have to strike the balance between the demand of the families needing to employ FDHs and, on the other hand, we have to reduce the risk of having the virus coming into our community. Thus, we have to do it steadily and step by step,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said, in case the number of COVID positive cases spikes, they have existing mechanism to stop flights coming to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has recently issued a two-week temporary ban on flights from Philippine Airlines after three of its passengers tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport.

“We have to monitor it closely,” Dr Law added.

“It depends on the progress, the risk we are facing and the whole situation at these places of origin for FDHs. You would probably be aware that in the Philippines, the number of cases has been increasing very rapidly recently. So, we have to basically monitor the situation day after day,” he said.

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