Wuhan virus revives post-SARS worries in Singapore

UNTV News   •   January 23, 2020   •   512

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

Air quality in Beijing improves due to coronavirus lockdown

UNTV News   •   April 6, 2020

As the whole world is struggling to fight the coronavirus pandemic, one of the unexpected outcomes for Chinese people is more clean skies.

China had a significant decrease in nitrogen dioxide pollution in cities like Beijing during February, when factories and streets were closed as authorities attempted to stop the spread of the virus, according to the European Space Agency (ESA) Copernicus satellite image.

Analysis by Greenpeace shows that the pollutant emissions in Beijing and its surrounding areas dropped by more than 40% year-on-year in February.

Compared to previous years, the air in the capital has seen a big improvement during the outbreak. Streets and landmarks are no longer covered in smog.

Beijing resident Liu Chuan takes this as a potential health benefit, saying that he could even see stars at night after work.

“It feels like the air is overall much less polluted than it used to be. It also improves people’s mood, and indirectly strengthens the immunity. It’s good for fighting the virus,” added Liu.

However, expert warns the air pollution and carbon emissions may soon reappear as Chinese factories are ramping up output in an effort to offset the economic hit of coronavirus.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that it may cause air pollution frequently if a large scale of high-polluting industries resume production,” said Lyn Liu, a Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner. (Reuters)

(Production: Irene Wang, Shubing Wang, Joyce Zhou, Natalie Thomas)

PH eyeing to launch SG-based contact tracing app amid COVID- 19 worries

Aileen Cerrudo   •   April 6, 2020

The Philippines is eyeing to launch a Singapore-based contact tracing app to help the government in containing the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) said they are coordinating with the Department of Health (DOH) and other government agencies to look into Singapore-based app ‘TraceTogether’.

DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan wrote a letter to Singaporean Ambassador Gerard Ho Wei Hong requesting more details about the app and that the ICT-enabled tools could assist in addressing the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines.

“In response, Ambassador Ho Wei Hong said Singapore is willing to provide technical assistance to DICT regarding the matter,” the DICT said.

According to the DICT, TraceTogether is a community-driven contact tracing app which works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between phones to detect other app users who are within about two to five-meter proximity. The app was launched last March 20.

“If one app user tested positive for Covid-19, authorities will be able to identify other app users who were in close contact with the patient,” the DICT said. AAC

Singapore closing workplaces, schools as coronavirus cases jump

UNTV News   •   April 3, 2020

Singapore will close schools and most workplaces, except for essential services like supermarkets and banks, for a month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (April 3), as part of stricter measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

While the city has won international praise for its efforts to stem the spread of the virus, its infections have been rising sharply in recent weeks, to 1,114 on Friday, and five people have died.

During a televised address, Lee urged everyone to stay at home as much as possible and to avoid socialising with others beyond their own household. He said the country had enough food supplies to last through this period and beyond.

The new measures will be in place from April 7 until May 4, while schools will move to full home-based learning from April 8. The measures could be extended beyond a month if the situation did not improve, authorities said.

The moves will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring, and it should also help to gradually bring numbers down, Lee said, which will then allow the authorities to relax some of the measures. Singapore has adopted some social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus, but had let schools, offices and restaurants remain open.

The city-state’s finance minister last month unveiled more than $30 billion in new measures to help businesses and households. (Reuters)

(Production: Joseph Campbell, Pedja Stanisic)

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