Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Singapore to lower flu alert to yellow over next five days

Singapore to lower flu alert to yellow over next five days Posted: 06 May 2009 1751 hrs Source : SINGAPORE - Singapore said Wednesday it would likely lower its alert level for swine flu next week, as the new strain of the virus appeared milder than originally feared. Authorities, however, will maintain temperature checks at the city-state's airport, sea ports and land border, the health ministry said in a statement. Passengers who had travelled to Mexico - the epicentre of the current flu outbreak - within seven days prior to their arrival in Singapore would still be placed under quarantine, it said. Screenings for flu-like symptoms at offices, schools, buildings and events will be lifted. If the situation remains the same, the alert level will be downgraded to "yellow" - the third in a five-step system - by Monday from the current "orange", the ministry said. "The new strain of influenza A(H1N1) seems milder than originally feared and appears to be more like seasonal flu," the ministry said. "However, as the situation is still evolving, we would need to constantly review and adjust our responses and be prepared to deal with the changing threat." The easing of measures is aimed at conserving resources and avoiding "flu fatigue", said Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan at a news conference on Wednesday. "We should shift to a sustainable level of flu precaution," he told reporters. He added: "SARS was not very infectious but deadly. It's like a big elephant. It is easier to spot and when you spot one, you try to shoot it and kill it with an elephant gun. H1N1 is not the same. It's like locusts that come once in a while, and thousands of them. You can try to kill them with elephant guns but it's not possible." Downgrading alert levels will also help the ministry conserve "bullets" such as the N95 masks, which are running out islandwide, for the second wave of the H1N1 virus attack. Mr Khaw said: "If your public health measures were to have effect, it must be quick. It must be over-reacting. You must not under react. But you cannot over-react forever - then you cause problem of 'cry wolf'. "Yellow is not green, the virus is still out there. The situation remains dynamic and we must continue to stay vigilant and manage this crisis nimbly." As of Wednesday, 12 people are currently in government-imposed home quarantine, the health ministry said. This includes six Singaporeans, five Mexicans and one Indonesian. Two of the five Mexicans will complete their seven days in isolation just before midnight Wednesday. Mr Khaw said that as the disease is highly contagious, the public has a very important role to play in combating it by raising standards of hygiene. He urged all Singaporeans to aspire to the Japanese standards of cleanliness and hygiene. The ministry said that if the virus mutates to become stronger, then alert levels may be revised upwards again. Mr Khaw also commended the Mexican government for reacting to the H1N1 outbreak promptly and for openly sharing data with the world. Earlier this week, the Mexican Ambassador in Singapore objected to the republic's decision to impose temporary visa requirements on Mexican passport holders. It said the move is "unnecessary" and "unjustified". The Health Ministry said Home Quarantine Orders will still apply to persons with a travel history to Mexico in the past seven days and it will closely monitor the situation before deciding whether to lift visa requirements. Under Singapore law, anyone found in breach of the quarantine order can be fined 10,000 Singapore dollars (US$6,802), jailed six months or both, for a first-time offence. - AFP/CNA/vm **** **** Flu alert lowered, but still, be alert ! =)

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