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SINGAPORE: Singaporeans should be on the alert for the emergence of swine flu in the country, said ministers at a news conference on Wednesday.
Some hospitals here are already on orange alert even though the government has placed the threat level at yellow. Orange alert means that the no-visitor rule is in place and healthcare workers must be in full protective gear.
Since the SARS epidemic in 2003, Singapore has put in place a comprehensive response plan in the event of an outbreak of infectious diseases. However, the government said this does not mean the public should let its guard down.
Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng said: "We are a very open society – many people come to Singapore, many Singaporeans travel overseas and they come back home. With the transmission being so efficient, it is possible that we can get hit by the Mexican swine flu. All of us should be alert, but don't be unduly alarmed by what is happening."
Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: "We cannot be complacent for the simple reason that this Mexican swine flu is not the same as the SARS virus that we dealt with. I think we did well last time, but that was an old war. This is a new war and we have to adapt our approach to deal with this new enemy. In many ways, this new enemy is much more difficult than SARS."
Mr Khaw pointed out why it is more challenging to contain the swine flu. Firstly, it is more contagious – spreading faster than SARS did; unlike SARS, infected patients can be infectious even before symptoms appear, making it difficult to identify those with the virus through thermal scanners at checkpoints.
As with all pandemics in the past, the swine flu infection is expected to be a long-drawn affair.
"The bottomline is that this is a very dynamic situation. But it does not mean that a global pandemic with a very high death rate, as what happened 90 years ago, is inevitable. It may happen, then again it may not.
"A lot depends on how the world responds to it and (if) the people within the country work hard together and do what is right, we may be able to reduce the casualties and fatalities," said Mr Khaw.
Doing what is right includes practising personal hygiene like frequent handwashing and being socially responsible by seeing a doctor and staying home when one falls ill.
A diagnostic kit for the swine flu is already being developed in the labs here, but authorities are still waiting for samples of the virus from the World Health Organisation which will help to determine if a virus detected here is indeed the swine flu.
Readers who want more technical details can find them in the ministry's briefing slides.
angry doc notes that "[a] 23-month-old child has died of swine flu in Texas".
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