Last week, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned that the number of dengue cases in Singapore this year is projected to exceed last year’s figures, unless immediate action is taken by all stakeholders.
In a release on last Monday (20 April), the NEA said that there have been almost 5,800 dengue cases reported as of mid-April this year. This is more than twice the number of cases reported in the same period in 2019.
“With the traditional dengue peak season coming up from May to September, the number of dengue cases in 2020 is projected to exceed the 16,000 cases in 2019, unless immediate measures are taken to suppress the Aedes mosquito population,” said the statement.
NEA also noted that the weekly figures remain high and continue to be a public health concern, around 300 to 400 cases a week.
The agency said that this is an “unusually high number” for the period before what is considered the typical peak dengue season, warning that if the predominant dengue virus serotype continues to shift, the rate of dengue transmission could worsen.
Given that most people are working from home during the COVID-19 circuit breaker period, the NEA has advised people to pay more attention to potential mosquito breeding sites in their homes and do take the necessary action to remove them.
The agency added, “”We urge everyone to be vigilant and to frequently check for common potential mosquito breeding habitats, such as pails, dish trays, flower pot plates or trays, vases, and ornamental containers.
“Clean and stagnant water in residents’ homes, as small in volume as the size of a 20-cent coin, can be potential mosquito breeding habitats.”
Listening to the advice given by NEA, a member of the public told TOC that she had highlighted a possible mosquito breeding area at construction sites near Block 506 Hougang Avenue 8 to NEA but no officers from the Agency were sent to conduct any inspection.
She voiced her concern that there is a high chance of stagnant water being present at the site. Noting that e ven if oil is applied to water surfaces and spraying is used, there will still be a chance that mosquitoes can breed.
She also opined that there is a risk of dengue outbreak which would create a load to the already encumbered healthcare system due to COVID-19 pandemic, particularly since the location is so near to the residential area.
She first sent an email on the 9 April to NEA, eagerly expecting a response from the agency after it wrote in the Today Forum that it will continue to conduct inspections and enforcement action islandwide, to reduce dengue transmission.
However, to her disappointment, NEA told her that it will not be sending any officers to the sites now due to the current COVID-19 circuit breaker imposed by the Government.
“We would like to clarify that while we are currently unable to inspect the mentioned construction sites due to the COVID-19 situation, our officers will continue to engage the constructions sites’ management to carry out proper housekeeping and step up on their vector control regime to prevent mosquito breeding at all times,” NEA explained in an email reply, which was viewed by TOC.
It added, “We will continue to sustain regular mosquito surveillance in the area and eliminate any potential breeding grounds found during our inspection rounds.”
In response to another email sent on 20 April, the NEA officer repeated the same words to assure that everything is looked after.
On 17 April, the member of public has also sent a personal message to Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli on social media to question why NEA is not inspecting potential mosquito breeding area at construction areas given that dengue cases are on the rise.
TOC has reached out to NEA regarding this matter and has yet to receive a reply.
Inspection at construction sites said to be ramped up
In the earlier statement by NEA, it also mentioned that it is working with other agencies and stakeholders in the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force to get rid of potential breeding grounds in housing estates and public areas, explaining that some of the top mosquito breeding sites in common areas are discarded receptacles and drains.
“Despite increased demands on the cleaning sector arising from the ongoing COVID-19 situation, NEA has worked with our cleaning service providers and town councils to ensure that cleaning of higher footfall areas and flushing of drains are not compromised,” said the agency.
It added that despite the closure of businesses during this circuit breaker period, owners of premises and work sites are still responsible to ensure that adequate measures are taken at the premises they are responsible for. This includes construction sites.
NEA said it will be ramping up inspections of common properties and construction sites.
It has also issue advisories to the Singapore Contractors Association Ltd earlier this month (3 April) to remind operators to ensure good upkeep of their sites to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.
“All stakeholders, including residents, contractors, and business owners, have a part to play in preventing dengue,” stressed the NEA.
According to a report by Channel News Asia, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is quoted to state that only a minimum number of foreign workers are allowed to remain on-site to perform essential tasks.
“(Other than a select number of strategic projects), contractors must continue to ensure that security, environmental control (including preventing mosquito breeding) and safety of building works are not compromised during the circuit breaker period,” said BCA.
“These workers who are approved to work on these strategic projects and performing essential works at all other construction sites are mostly staying at the construction sites or are allowed to travel only between the work site and their place of residence,” it added.
According to Ms Tessa Sam, a resident whom CNA interviewed, “There was this sign outside the construction site that said ‘Good housekeeping prevents mosquitoes breeding’ and it reminded me that when it’s raining, there is no one working, so when the rainwater collects there is no one to clear the water,”
Ms Sam added that she has been finding mosquitoes all over her living room, although she is not sure if they are coming from the work site nearby.