DPM / Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng visited the Tan Tock Seng Hospital as part of Exercise Sparrowhawk today. After the visit, he made the following comments to the media:
"Avian flu is a problem in our region, and one never knows when it can turn into a pandemic and become very serious and potential public health issue for us. Nobody knows when that would happen.
In Singapore, we can't take chances. We have to take every precaution.
Firstly, to detect and conduct surveillance of potential cases of outbreak. Secondly, to take the necessary measures to prepare our healthcare facilities and our healthcare workers.
Thirdly, to educate our people so that they know they can't take for granted that flu pandemic cannot break out, and they can take things easy. There are very simple rules they can observe even at normal times. Personal hygiene is key. And not long ago, MICA distributed a booklet to all households. More than a million copies of the publication called "Flu Pandemic" were printed, and every household was given a copy. In it, there are very useful information for all Singaporeans to read. They should not just put it aside or put into the bookshelf, but actually should take time to read the book, understand what it says, and know what they need to do, and then prepare the family for it.
And the exercise today is one of those which we will conduct to test the system to find out what else we need to do to improve it. After the exercise, the participants will get together with their feedback and come up with a report to recommend further measures."
On lessons learned from SARS
"So far we have done well as we have taken a series of measures over the years from the experience from SARS, and I think that gave us a headstart. From the SARS experience, we knew that isolation facilities are key if we want to stop spread of SARS. And from that particular experience, we increased the capacity for isolation wards. From there, we also learned the protocols, eg we looked at temperature screening, the various gowns and equipment used, the precautions that the healthcare workers need to take to manage the patients. These are the experiences that we got from the SARS. And also from that experience, we knew that there were certain gaps that we should plug, and this exercise will help us identify what the gaps are."
On regional cooperation
"We know that avian flu is a problem threatening the region. And we also know that in some of our neighbouring countries, they have a serious problem. So we can't take for granted that we won't a get flu outbreak in Singapore. We work with those countries concerned very closely, eg Indonesia. It is part of the regional effort. It is no good just closing our doors or safeguarding our borders, if our neighbours are not able to cope with a situation like that. So we will also work with the others in the region to ensure that this threat that we face together will be dealt with together."
On Border Control
"This is an issue that we will continue to look at because Singapore is an open economy, and with Singaporeans going in and out, and depending on the extent which this problem is going to affect us, we will take the necessary measures, and closing the borders is just one of such options that we may consider. But this is not a decision that we can take lightly or one that we can decide today."
MINISTRY OF HOME AFFAIRS
21 JULY 2006