How prepared is Singapore for “Saudi SARS”?

Saudi SARS – the colloquial term for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) when it first surfaced in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Though frequently associated to the SARS-CoV, the MERS-CoV is a deadlier but apparently less-transmissible variation. Both viruses are likely to have originated from bats. Researchers are still racing to understand the virus.

“Wars can be geographically contained. Infectious disease cannot – and is more devastating,” warned Prof Koh Woon Puay, the widow of vascular surgeon Dr Alexandre Chao. Dr Chao was infected on his call of duty and eventually succumbed to the virus at Singapore General Hospital where he worked tirelessly.

Here’s a recap on the SARS outbreak in Singapore:

  • First carrier was admitted to hospital on 1 March 2003 and isolated for what was feared to be bird flu. She had just returned from a holiday in Hong Kong.
  • 774 people were killed worldwide; from China (349), Hong Kong (299), Canada (43), Taiwan (370) and Singapore (33).
  • The 33 deaths recorded in Singapore include those of the carrier’s parents, maternal uncle, and pastor as well as several hospital workers.
  • Tan Tock Seng Hospital was the designated SARS hospital; however Singapore General Hospital was also hit by the outbreak.
  • About 740 people were quarantined at home for 10 days.
  • People who perished were to be cremated within 24 hours.
  • All schools were shut down from 27 March till about April 16.
  • Temperature checks at the airport were introduced for all passengers entering Singapore.

It took 4.5 months before SARS was eradicated from Singapore.


The MERS virus has been hitting South Korea really hard since the past week. It’s 11th death was just reported today, with a total of 126 reported cases.

3680 people are quarantined at the moment, including an entire village of 73 households that is rounded up by authorities to prevent escape. More than 700 schools have also shut their gates.


…and just how prepared is Singapore?

All school trips to the country have been postponed or cancelled according to our Ministry of Education.
PM Lee personally inspected Tan Tock Seng Hospital to ensure that good measures are in place. He also urges Singaporeans to be psychologically prepared, and we must assume that MERS can and will reach our shores.

We read about the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) cases in the Middle East, and recently a major outbreak in South Korea. Sooner or later, we will have a MERS case in Singapore. We must be ready. I visited Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) this morning. I wanted to be sure that the medical team and facilities are well drilled and ready. It’s not just the medical team. The public too must be psychologically prepared, so that we won’t panic.So if you have travelled recently and feel unwell, please see your doctor. Please tell him where you have been, especially if it was to the Middle East or South Korea. If we have a MERS case here, please stay calm, listen to advice from the govt, but otherwise go about your daily lives normally. Let’s take care of each other. – LHL (PMO Video by Alex Qiu and Chiez How)

Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday, 11 June 2015


Emergency kits were handed out during the SARS epidemic and N95 masks were distributed to all households in light of the haze situation.

How does the government plan to further use the Temasek Emergency Preparedness Fund for MERS? Is the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) prepared to accommodate a large number of patients in the worst case scenario?

While the government and medical institutions are prepared, how prepared are companies to deal with the situation?

Are plans in place for employees to work from home?

And are our schools ready?

These are not just real questions to think about. Their solutions must be in order for execution any time from now.







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