Praised by the World Health Organisation for its efforts to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, Singapore warned on Friday that deaths in the city state would become “inevitable” as a global pandemic emerges.
Since erupting in China late last year, the epidemic has spread to other parts of the world with cases recently mounting in Europe and North America.
“It is starting to look like a global pandemic,” said Lawrence Wong, who co-heads Singapore’s virus fighting taskforce. “It’s not going to be possible to shut ourselves out.”
The WHO has not categorized the current situation as a pandemic, saying that such a term may amplify fear and signal that the virus cannot be contained. It has said it would use the term if it became necessary.
Singapore was one of the worst hit countries outside China in the early stages of the outbreak. But more than two months since its first case, it has kept infections to just over 100 people, most of whom have been discharged, and had no deaths.
But officials have warned that its rigid travel restrictions and containment measures may be less effective the further the virus spreads.
“It is inevitable that at some point in time we will see fatalities from COVID-19 as we have seen all around the world,” health minister Gan Kim Yong said.
Of the countries with more than 100 cases, Singapore is one of only two not to have recorded fatalities.
The other is Germany, although the surge in cases there is more recent and almost all of its patients are in care.
The WHO has praised wealthy Singapore’s virus fight as having left “no stone unturned”.
Leong Hoe Nam, a disease expert, said early diagnosis and medical support for patients had helped prevent fatalities so far.
“We catch them early and treat them with good supportive care early and it helps,” Leong said.
Treatment was the same as in other countries, but Singapore has been “fortunate” that many of its cases were mild, said Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s top medical official.
Mak said seven of its current patients were critical and that many of them needed ventilators for breathing support.
Significantly, only eight of 117 virus patients have been aged over 65 years, said Singapore-based infectious diseases expert Dale Fisher, noting age can be a determining factor in the severity of the illness.