At the same time, South Korea has raised their alert to red – the Ministry of Health has issued a public health travel advisory and NUS has suspended exchange programmes to South Korea. There are other countries such as Italy which has also seen a surge in cases.
I have reviewed the travel declarations of all students staying on campus who have indicated either plans to travel to South Korea or are returning from there – of those who have declared plans to travel, many have updated that they have cancelled their trips. Of those returning so far, none have travelled to hotspots Daegu and Cheongdo.
We have put in place several measures under DORSCON Orange. We have also taken a calibrated approach and stepped up measures as the situation evolves such as suspending close contact CCAs.
What is a useful way to think of this new phase?
I asked Professor Benjamin Ong, former Director of Medical Services and now NUS Senior Vice President (Health Education & Resources)
How would you describe this second phase of the disease and what are some of our vulnerabilities?
The New Paradigm: Community level outbreaks in countries in more than one WHO region
“What we are seeing now is human to human transmission in multiple countries around the world – which are early indications that we may be seeing an emerging pandemic. This is not unanticipated for several reasons:
(1) First, infectivity. Human to human transmission occurs reasonably effectively, and the virus can be transmitted when the infected person has relatively minor symptoms.
(2) Secondly, difficulty with detection. The disease presentation is non-specific which means that apart from a travel history, and an identification of individuals from a locality known to have a high prevalence of the disease in the community with active human to human spread, it is not easy to initially filter such cases out.
(3) Third, the speed, ease and scale of travel. This means that potentially infected and infectious individuals from the initial source country have been to or are still in various countries with strong business, family or tourist links. Places with high travel volume would be at particular risk.
(4) Fourth, vigilance and preparedness. Singapore (and places like Hong Kong) has been tested in SARS, Zika, H1N1. We strengthened our overall abilities in surveillance, country-country collaborations, whole of government response capability since 2003. Other jurisdictions may have been in different phases of preparation as the situation developed. Many countries lack the well-resourced health system we are blessed with here.
We can expect many countries to start to see cases stack up very quickly. When the country reports a death from COVID-19, it generally means there is already community spread to some degree.
For Singapore, we have limited community human to human spread. This appears to still be from close contact and suggests that it is dominantly droplet-based. We have to continue to find cases and isolate/treat them.
Meanwhile, everyone should be socially responsible in behaviour. We should see a doctor when unwell and if given MC, stay home and minimise contact with others until recovered. This way, we can all contribute to limiting the total number of cases in Singapore.
The challenge now will be to minimise the risk of reintroduction of infected individuals from other countries that have community transmission, particularly if their system or surveillance is less well developed than ours.”
A cautious approach then might be to delay travel to these countries. Towards the end of my time delivering food, I noticed that fewer students were opening their doors. It occurred to me that they were treating me with more caution too – thinking perhaps, “Who knows where this professor had been during the weekend?”
I don’t blame them.
As Alastor Moody would say, “Constant Vigilance!”
A/P Leong Ching
NUS Dean of Students
#QOTD Question of the Day
There is also a question of whether Singapore is being too lax in its policies, especially compared to stricter regimes. I get quite a few phone calls from parents, and some students, wondering whether more should be done.
Answer by Professor Paul Ananth Tambyah, Professor, Department of Medicine, NUS & Senior Consultant, Division of Infectious Diseases, University Medicine Cluster, National University Hospital
Question: “How bad should the situation worsen for the school to stop its lessons and activities. If NUS waits for a whole cluster to be infected so that the situation is severe enough, at that point of time, everything will be too late. As if a whole cluster is detected, the virus has already been spread out via either air, droplet spread as well as close contact.”
Answer: My response would be that Singapore and NUS are not yet (and hopefully never will be) in the state that exists in Hubei province or Wuhan city. The local transmission clusters that are occurring are currently well defined and only one NUS student of more than 40,000 and one staff member of more than 10,000 – both linked to a church cluster – are known to be infected. As such, the risk of transmission on campus is extremely low.
We have very strict processes in place such as twice daily temperature screening and are keeping a very close eye on the situation.
NUS will not hesitate to step up measures if needed and these could include stopping lessons but right now, there is no need to compromise the teaching and research at the university by introducing drastic measures with limited public health benefit at this point in time.
Question: What is the difference between LOA and SHN arrangements in NUS?
Answer by Ms Ong Poh Suan, Deputy Director, Student Services and Residential Life, Office of Student Affairs.
Students under LOA can leave their rooms wearing face masks to use the laundry room, pantry and common bathroom on their level. They may move around their level, as well as to and from the laundry room, which could sometimes be located in another block within the residence.
Students under SHN cannot leave their rooms to use the laundry room and pantry. The SHN rooms come with attached bathrooms. Essentially, SHN students must stay in their assigned rooms throughout the 14 days. In addition to the delivery of food and essential items, they are also provided with laundry service.