Commuters wearing masks in precaution of the coronavirus outbreak are pictured in a train during their morning commute in Singapore, Feb 18, 2020. (Photo: Agencies)
The outbreak of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, has shown the resilience of Singapore's public healthcare system as it puts it to the test, a senior World Health Organization official said.
Jacqueline Lo Ying-Ru, head of mission and the WHO's representative to Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Singapore, said that Singapore's strong surveillance and diagnostic capability also benefitted from timely information shared by China.
"Singapore's health authorities are very capable as demonstrated by how they responded to the COVID-19 outbreak," Lo said.
The city state has the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Southeast Asia, reporting 91 infections as of Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Health. The ministry's data also showed that Singapore's caseload is easing, as seen in the rising number of those discharged after treatment. Fifty-eight such people have been allowed to leave hospitals as of Tuesday.
Lo said that the city state learned from its experience of tackling the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003. Singapore is also willing to work with－and learn from－the international community in managing the coronavirus outbreak.
For instance, Lo said one of the key lessons that Singapore learned from China is how to better diagnose cases of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus.
"China has shared the genome sequence of the COVID-19 virus to the world. Singapore has used this to develop a testing kit and diagnostic protocol," she said.
Singapore has invented a diagnostic test kit that helps in screening people infected with the virus. These kits are now being used in the country's public hospitals.
Singapore has sent diagnostic test kits, medical supplies and personal protective equipment to China.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this is part of the cooperation between the two countries. "Our shared experience fighting SARS in 2003 taught us that countries have to work with one another to deal with a global public health crisis," Lee said.
He said that Singapore is also keen to work with China in developing a vaccine and an effective treatment for the virus.
Lee said that the Special Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China Foreign Ministers' Meeting on COVID-19 was "a positive sign of regional solidarity". He was referring to the ASEAN-China meeting held on Feb 20 in Laos.
Despite Singapore's relatively high number of confirmed coronavirus cases, the WHO and other experts have praised the city state's preparedness in handling the outbreak.
Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Singapore is aiming to "strike a careful balance between effective COVID-19 prevention and control measures and the rise of unnecessary panic".
Oh cited the precautionary measures imposed by the government－including health screening, a travel ban and distribution of facial masks to local communities. But these measures were also complemented by intensive public education efforts that are helping its citizens to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
"The Singapore government has worked closely with international partners, neighbors in the region, and society in combating COVID-19," said Zi Yang, a senior analyst with the China Program at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
He said this is an "appropriate response" given the transboundary nature of the coronavirus outbreak.