KUALA LUMPUR: Asian countries are ramping up checks at their entry points following an outbreak of mysterious viral pneumonia, which has affected scores of people in Wuhan, China.
Concerns in the Southeast Asian region escalated following news yesterday that Singapore registered its first case in the form of a 3-year-old female Chinese national who appeared to have developed symptoms similar to the disease.
Singapore news portal Today Online, quoting the republic’s Health Ministry, said the 3-year-old had been warded and isolated.
The report said the girl had a history of travel to Wuhan, where a seafood wholesale market had been associated with a cluster of pneumonia cases.
However, a Singapore Straits Times report later said that investigations and test results “found the case is not linked to the pneumonia cluster in Wuhan”.
The report also quoted the ministry as saying the girl tested negative for SARS and MERS-CoV.
Most of the viral pneumonia cases had reportedly been traced to the South China Seafood City food market in the suburbs of Wuhan, where offerings reportedly include wild animals that could carry viruses dangerous to humans.
Singapore’s Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan, in a Facebook post on Saturday, said Changi Airport had begun screening travellers from Wuhan, with the first temperature screening carried out on Saturday morning.
“We are monitoring the pneumonia situation in Wuhan closely. There is no evidence of people-to-people transmission, so it could likely be a normal fever outbreak.
“But after SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, we cannot be complacent. It is a good occasion to remind and to exercise public health measures.”
On Saturday, the Malaysian Health Ministry said states had been urged to inform it if they encountered any case with pneumonia symptoms, and if any patients had visited Wuhan recently.
“We are monitoring our international entry points to ensure travellers coming into the country undergo health screenings. If we detect anyone with fever, we will examine the person at our quarantine centres.
“If we suspect the person has a contagious disease, the individual will be referred to the nearest health facility (based on fever screening procedures at international entry points),” said the ministry.
The ministry said it was in contact with the World Health Organisation over the influenza outbreak in Wuhan, which has seen 44 cases reported, with 11 patients in critical condition.
In Hong Kong, the authorities have moved their readiness level to “serious response”.
The island has recorded five possible cases, which have revived fears of the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic that started in southern China and claimed more than 700 lives on the mainland, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
Hong Kong has since installed an additional thermal imaging system at its airport on Friday to check arriving passengers’ body temperature.
Workers have also been assigned for temperature checks at the West Kowloon high-speed rail station that connects Hong Kong to the mainland.
Besides SARS, Hong Kong had been hit by the bird flu in 1997 and the swine flu in 2009.