Health Minister urges public to support frontline healthcare workers dealing with coronavirus, not shun them

The number of infected cases of the newly named Covid-19 have reached 50 in Singapore as of Wednesday evening (12 February).

Given that more and more cases are being confirmed in the country, this is the time people should support healthcare workers and not shun them, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at a press conference.

He said this on Wednesday after the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that three more people had been infected with the deadly coronavirus, and identified two new clusters of infection through epidemiological investigations and contact tracing.

As more people are beginning to show worries and anxieties over the coronavirus situation, he came to know about that Singaporeans are becoming wary of healthcare workers and shun doctors and nurses in public places.

As such, he said he “would like to take this opportunity to appeal to Singaporeans not to do so.”

“Let us come together to show our support for them, and to support their work, so they continue to take care of our patients and families and our loved ones,” he urged.

He added, “Sometimes, a kind word or a warm greeting will go a long way to make them feel appreciated and give them a morale boost to continue the fight.”

This is not the first time such a situation had happened to frontline medical staff. During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, healthcare workers who had been in the frontline had been shunned by other who feared that they might pass the infection to them.

Based on the past experience, Mr Gan highlighted that he doesn’t want such a situation to repeat itself again.

The Minister’s remarks came after reports surfaced online of healthcare workers being discriminated in public places, such as nurses being asked to take the stairs instead of the lift, or to get off the train.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs and Health Amrin also told on Wednesday that ambulance drivers who went to buy food in common areas were asked to leave.

“These are very unfortunate incidents… We need to condemn the disgraceful acts by a small minority,” he said.

Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry to curb the Covid-19 situation in Singapore, also announced that one million masks will be given out to general practitioners and specialists in private practice so they can use them to protect themselves, their staff and patients.

“They will get the supplies that they need because they are a part of our team,” the Minister said.

He continued, “In this challenging time, it is important for us to work together as a team, as a community and as a nation, to overcome this infection and to keep Singaporeans safe.”

Additionally, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat also took to his Facebook today (13 February) to highlight the discrimination that medical staff encounter due to the coronavirus situation in Singapore.

“Even as we do battle against COVID-19, there have been some troubling reports circulating online about the discrimination our nurses and ambulance drivers are facing from some members of the public, due to fear and ignorance,” he wrote.

He added, “This is definitely not who we are as Singaporeans. I hope that if you see such incidents taking place, you will step forward and speak up for our dedicated and hard-working healthcare workers.”

Transport service to help medical workers

Speaking at the same press conference, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said that 90 percent of Grab drivers have shown interest to join a new service called Grabcare in order to “help our healthcare workers get to and from healthcare facilities”.

The service will kick-start tomorrow for those working at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, he noted.

Two initiatives for Singaporeans to channel appreciation 

Mr Lee also said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that the Government will come out with two initiatives that will permit Singaporeans to show their appreciation and support for healthcare workers.

The first will be done through the Courage Fund, said Mr Lee.

The Courage Fund, which was created 17 years ago by healthcare institutions to support people affected by SARS, is still currently active.

As such, the Government will use the donation collected from the fund to help patients, workers in the medical line and communities who are in need of additional support due to Covid-19.

Donations have began coming in once again.

“Community Chest Singapore and National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will facilitate the use of the fund for COVID-19, to support patients, healthcare workers and other affected people,” Mr Lee said.

President Halimah Yacob also announced in a Facebook post yesterday that the President’s Challenge, which has been mobilising resources to lend a helping hand those who may be more susceptible, will be donating S$250,000 to the Courage Fund.

“In this regard, we will be donating $250,000 to The Courage Fund to further support the vulnerable groups tide through this difficult period,” she wrote.

She added, “I strongly urge the community to support this fund. It is challenging times like this that will truly define who we are as a nation.”

Separately, CapitaLand Hope Foundation has also donated S$300,000 to the Courage Fund.

If that’s not all, CapitaLand also encourages its employees to donate to the fund, adding that it will work closely with NCSS and Community Chest Singapore to identify opportunities for its staff to further contribute and support these vulnerable groups.

“CapitaLand is taking the lead to support this effort to fight against COVID-19. We hope more corporates will also be encouraged to come forward and strengthen our collective support for the community,” said Tan Seng Chai, the Chief Corporate & People Officer for CapitaLand Group and Executive Director of CapitaLand Hope Foundation to TOC.

He added, “We need to respond effectively and swiftly, and with compassion to ensure the vulnerable groups in Singapore continue to receive the required assistance.”

Me Lee also said that Youth Corps will support Willing Hearts, a dignity kitchen, to send out meals to seniors and the vulnerable.

The second initiative is to create a centralised platform that will allow “various ground-up initiatives to more meaningfully address areas of need”, said Mr Lee.

He explained that this platform will allow members of the public who may want to contribute or volunteer in a bigger way, adding that more details about this will be furnished soon.

“The way we respond to this global health crisis will shape not just who we are as Singaporeans but also how we will be remembered by future generations. I am confident that Singaporeans will choose courage and resilience, and continue to look out for one another,” he said.

Must be prepared for the worst

MOH said that a total of 15 cases have fully recovered from the infection and have been discharged from hospital. Of the 35 confirmed cases who are still in hospital, most are stable or improving.

However, eight are in critical condition in the intensive care.

Although most infected patients will recover, Mr Gan warned: “Some may get seriously ill, and a small number may succumb to the infection ultimately.”

“We have to be prepared for the worst,” he elaborated.

He went on to note that the fight against the deadly coronavirus may get harder.

Speaking in Mandarin, Mr Gan said: “Because we are stepping up our surveillance and doing more testing, we can well expect to see more cases in the coming days and weeks.”

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