Both China and Singapore are pulling out all stops to deal with the Wuhan virus, as the death toll climbs to 106 and health experts warn that there could be more than 4,500 confirmed cases.
The coronavirus, which induces pneumonia-like symptoms, originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and is known to be spreading faster than initially expected.
In an effort to stem domestic and international travel, the Chinese government is mandating a three-day extension of the Lunar New Year holidays. Employees will return to work on Feb 3.
The Chinese administration is also working desperately around the clock to find an antidote for the virus. Health administrators currently use two HIV drugs to treat pneumonia-like illnesses caused by the deadly virus.
It is however not immediately clear if these drugs can effectively treat patients with the novel virus.
Meanwhile in Singapore, all four confirmed cases so far are tourists from Wuhan.
A multi-ministry task force is banding together to address key measures that Singapore will take to deal effectively with the viral outbreak.
At a press conference on Monday, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced a 14-day mandatory leave of absence for students and civil servants returning from China, expanded temperature screening for all inbound flights to Singapore, and cleaning protocols for properly disinfecting affected premises.
Singapore may have its house in order for now, but China’s last-minute marshalling of a nationwide response to the outbreak after local outrage exposes an administration designed to be reactive, rather than proactive, to health crises.
In fact, critics are quick to draw parallels between the Wuhan outbreak and the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic in shedding light on core flaws within Beijing’s political system.
Originating as well from China in the Southern province of Guangdong, SARS claimed 774 lives and infected more than 8,000 people worldwide.
The fragmented and rigid nature of China’s bureaucracy makes it hard for local officials to raise concerns of local crises with central bosses. These officials are also less likely to be able to share information freely with their peers to accurately identify and deal with an oncoming epidemic.
While Singapore expects an adverse impact on its retail and tourism sector in the immediate term, analysts are still optimistic about the nation’s ability to weather this storm.
The government is introducing special tax breaks and initiatives to help local businesses retain workers, similar to measures it took back in 2003.
But compared to the SARS outbreak which left the public largely in the dark about how widespread or deadly the virus was, there is ease of flow of information today thanks to technology.
In fact, more than 56,000 Singaporeans subscribed to the Gov.sg WhatsApp since Sunday to get the latest alerts on the outbreak as well as safety precautions.
The health ministry also invoked its anti-fake news bill to quash false rumours about the death of a 66-year-old man from the coronavirus in Singapore. The writer of the online post, which appeared on website Hardware Zone, subsequently complied with the correction directive.
Gov.sg’s advisory on who needs to wear a mask and how to put one on properly.