Date: Fri, 31 Jan 2020 11:34:20 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Jan 31, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore on Friday announced a sweeping ban on arrivals and transit passengers from mainland China as authorities toughened measures to prevent the spread of a deadly virus.   The move was a dramatic expansion of earlier measures by Singapore that affected only arrivals from central Hubei province and came after the World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus an international emergency.  "We are likely to see a sharper rise in the spread of the virus to Chinese cities beyond Hubei in the coming days... so the task force has decided to take additional measures now to restrict travel," Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at a media briefing.

"All new visitors with recent travel history to China within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter into Singapore or to transit through Singapore," added Wong, who co-chairs the government task force leading the response to the virus.   "We will suspend the issuance of all forms of new visas to those holding (China) passports."   Singapore's international airport is one of the busiest in Asia.   Wong said, however, there are no plans to cancel the Singapore Airshow, one of the biggest aviation industry events in the world, scheduled from February 11-16.   Singapore has at least 13 confirmed infections of the virus, which has claimed the lives of 213 people in mainland China. All of the confirmed cases in Singapore are from Wuhan, capital of Hubei.
Date: Thu, 23 Jan 2020 16:05:30 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Jan 23, 2020 (AFP) - Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.   The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.    He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.   One of his travelling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.

Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.   It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms "given the high volume of international travel".   Singapore's Changi Airport started screening flights from Wuhan at the beginning of the month, and on Wednesday extended the checks to all flights from China.   The travel hub receives over 430 flights from China every week.   The virus has caused alarm in China and abroad because of its genetic similarities to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 650 people across mainland China and Hong Kong in 2002-2003.

Singapore was among the hardest hit by SARS with 33 deaths.   Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who is in Davos for the World Economic Forum, said there was "no need to panic".   Speaking to reporters travelling with him, Lee said Singapore has beefed up its hospital facilities and laid out response measures since the SARS epidemic.   "I think we are much better prepared now," he said in remarks carried by the Straits Times newspaper.
Date: Thu, 7 Nov 2019 09:57:41 +0100 (MET)

Singapore, Nov 7, 2019 (AFP) - Tourists visiting Singapore can now check in at some hotels using facial recognition technology under a pilot programme that could cut waiting times and help tackle a labour crunch.  The tech-savvy country of 5.7 million people is increasingly turning to automation to speed up services and deal with workforce shortages, with robots deployed for tasks ranging from cleaning to making noodles.

Under the pilot launched Wednesday, visitors will not need to wait to be checked in by hotel staff but can instead use a phone app fitted with facial recognition technology or machines which scan their passports.   The data from the scan is sent to immigration authorities for checks after which the visitor is issued a room key, said the Singapore Tourism Board and Hotel Association, which announced the initiative this week.

The technology, reportedly being trialled at three hotels and is similar to that used in some airports including Singapore's Changi, could reduce check-in times by up to 70 percent, they said.   Singapore welcomed a record high 18.5 million visitors last year, up 6.2 percent from the year before. The city has more than 400 hotels with 67,000 rooms.
Date: Fri 25 Oct 2019
Source: Channel News Asia [abridged, edited]
<https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/measles-cases-singapore-highest-level-mmr-vaccine-12033560>

The number of measles cases in Singapore has hit the highest level since an outbreak in 1997, figures from the Ministry of Health on Thursday [24 Oct 2019] showed. According to the latest weekly infectious diseases bulletin published on Thursday [24 Oct 2019], there were 149 measles cases in Singapore as of 19 Oct [2019]. That is more than 4 times the number of cases for the whole of 2018, when there were 34.

The number of measles cases in Singapore hit 1413 in 1997, before the government introduced the 2-dose MMR vaccination schedule in 1998. The number of cases fell to just 114 that year [1998].  In July this year [2019], MOH urged Singaporeans to remain vigilant, as measles cases around the world have increased substantially.  "As a travel hub, Singapore is likely to see increased cases from importation," it said.

According to the latest Communicable Diseases Surveillance report released by MOH in 2018, the number of reported measles cases has "rapidly declined" since the introduction of compulsory measles vaccination in August 1985. In 1992 and 1997, there was a spike in the number of reported cases across all age groups. The "catch-up" immunisation initiative was implemented between July 1997 and November 1997, and the 2-dose MMR vaccination started in January 1998.

The number of measles cases ranged between 13 and 96 between 2001 and 2010, before an increase in 2011 to 148 cases. Since then the number of cases has fluctuated, with 38 cases in 2012 and 46 cases in 2013, jumping to 142 cases in 2014.

There were 42 measles cases in 2015 and 136 cases in 2016. That dipped to 70 cases for the whole of 2017 and dropped further to 34 cases in 2018.

There have been outbreaks around the world as the virus exploits gaps in vaccination coverage, the World Health Organization (WHO) said this month [October 2019].

The disease, which is, according to the WHO, one of the world's most contagious, rose by 300% globally in the 1st 3 months of 2019, compared to the same period in 2018. There have been consecutive increases over the last 2 years.  [Byline: Michael Yong]
Date: Wed, 18 Sep 2019 12:26:37 +0200 (METDST)
By Sam Reeves

Kuala Lumpur, Sept 18, 2019 (AFP) - Toxic haze from Indonesian forest fires closed schools and airports across the country and in neighbouring Malaysia Wednesday, while air quality worsened in Singapore just days before the city's Formula One motor race.   Illegal fires to clear land for agriculture are blazing out of control on Sumatra and Borneo islands, with Jakarta deploying thousands of security forces and water-bombing aircraft to tackle them.

Indonesian blazes belch smog across Southeast Asia annually, but this year's are the worst since 2015 and have added to concerns about wildfire outbreaks worldwide exacerbating global warming.   On Wednesday, air quality deteriorated to "very unhealthy" levels on an official index in many parts of peninsular Malaysia, to the east of Sumatra, with the Kuala Lumpur skyline shrouded by dense smog.    Nearly 1,500 schools were closed across Malaysia due to the air pollution, with over one million pupils affected, according to the education ministry.

A growing number of Malaysians were suffering health problems due to the haze, with authorities saying there had been a sharp increase in outpatients at government hospitals -- many suffering dry and itchy eyes.   Indonesian authorities said hundreds of schools in hard-hit Riau province on Sumatra were shut, without providing a precise number, while about 1,300 were closed in Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.    Borneo is shared between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.   Poor visibility closed seven airports in the Indonesian part of Borneo, the transport ministry in Jakarta said. Scores of flights have already been diverted and cancelled in the region in recent days due to the smog.

- Singapore smog race? -
Air quality in Singapore worsened to unhealthy levels and a white smog obscured the striking waterfront skyline, featuring the Marina Bay Sands casino resort with its three towers and boat-shaped top level.    The worsening pollution increased fears that this weekend's Formula One race may be affected. Organisers say the possibility of haze is one of the issues in their contingency plan for Sunday's showpiece night race, but have not given further details.

The city-state's tourism board said spectators would be able to buy masks as protection from the haze if conditions did not improve and assistance would be provided for those who feel unwell, the Today news portal reported.   The fires have sparked tensions between Indonesia and Malaysia.    Indonesia's environment minister initially suggested the haze was from Malaysian fires despite satellite data showing hundreds of blazes in Indonesia and only a handful in its neighbour, prompting anger from her Malaysian counterpart.

Indonesia later sealed off dozens of plantations where it said fires were blazing, including some owned by Malaysia-based firms, deepening the row.   But Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who has struck a diplomatic tone throughout the crisis, said Malaysia may pass legislation forcing its companies to tackle fires on plantations abroad.   Malaysia wants its firms with sites overseas to put out blazes contributing to the haze, he said, adding: "Of course, if we find they are unwilling to take action, we may have to pass a law to make them responsible."

The Indonesian government has insisted it is doing all it can to fight the blazes. But this year's fires have been worsened by dry weather and experts believe there is little chance of them being extinguished until the onset of the rainy season in October.   Indonesia's meteorology, climate and geophysics agency said Wednesday that over 1,000 hotspots -- areas of intense heat detected by satellite that indicate a likely fire -- had been sighted, most of them on Sumatra.
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