SPEECH BY ER DR LEE BEE WAH, MP FOR NEE SOON GRC, AT THE SECOND READING OF THE INFECTIOUS DISEASES (AMENDMENT) BILL IN PARLIAMENT ON 14 JAN 2019
Mr Speaker Sir
I rise to support the Bill. We are a busy cross-road for international air and sea transport. Millions of tourists pass through our shores by air, land and sea. Hence, we need to take steps to closely monitor and implement measures on how infectious diseases can be controlled to protect the health of our local population.
I note that there are various requirements for doctors and those who run laboratories carrying out various medical tests to report to the Ministry of Health when infectious diseases are detected. I think what we need to look into is how the frontline staff at the clinics, and the phlebotomists and lab technicians are protected? What training is given to them to keep them abreast of preventive measures to be taken? This is the group that is vulnerable and they can be a source for spread of infectious diseases if they are not properly trained and protected. Also, we have seen from the outbreak of SARS how the frontline medical staff at the government hospitals fell victims.
While we know the government healthcare institutions are very vigilant and they conduct regular disease outbreak exercises to prepare their staff for such eventualities, unfortunately, I am not sure whether the same is true for non-government hospitals and medical centres. What is the MOH doing to ensure that their frontline staff also receive adequate protection? How stringent are checks at privately-run clinical laboratories to ensure that the technicians and all those working there observe the necessary safety rules? How often does the MOH conduct audits of these laboratories where they handle blood, urine and other samples?
Secondly, I note that the government healthcare institutions offer free vaccinations for their medical staff against infectious diseases such as the seasonal flu. Will the government make this mandatory for all hospital staff so that they do not become carriers because of the nature of their work in the hospital setting? I believe at present it is not compulsory for all the staff, especially non-medical staff, like the receptionists, cleaners and so forth
Next, I would like to ask the Minister what is the process in place if someone has visited a person or patient who is suffering from an infectious disease while overseas. Is this person required to declare upon embarking in Singapore? Isn’t there a risk that this person could become a carrier though he/she may not have symptoms until after the gestation period? Is there any public education that the MOH will carry out to warn Singaporeans and others who travel abroad to visit a sick person? I believe in the setting of a public healthcare institution, staff are reminded if they returned from, say the Middle East, and have fever, they should report to the infectious disease control clinic for a check. But what about those in private healthcare? What about those who are not even in a healthcare setting? How do we help educate them about their social responsibility towards the community?
I am pleased to note that MOH under a new Section 21B Minister can seek the assistance of mobile operators as well as various transport operators to disseminate health advisories. I feel that MOH may also tap on the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s website and app to disseminate such health measures to be taken for Singaporeans who register with the MFA before they travel abroad, especially to high health-risk countries.
I note that section 31 allows the Port Health Officer to return a person (not being a citizen of Singapore, who arrives in Singapore without having undergone a vaccination or prophylaxis. May I also ask what is the process in place for an aircraft to be disinfected if a passenger travelling on board is found to suffer from a highly infectious disease? For that matter, on the ground, what about the taxis that transport the person to the hospital? I am also concerned about how taxi drivers are protected against infectious diseases, especially against the avian flu.
I would also like to raise this point about the plastic trays — used at airport checkpoints around the globe and touched by millions of passengers as they drop shoes, laptops, luggage and other items to clear X-ray scanners. In September this year, there were reports pointing out that studies have found these trays carry a variety of germs, including the ones responsible for the common cold, according to researchers in Europe. Scientists from the University of Nottingham in England and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare swabbed frequently touched surfaces at Helsinki Airport in Finland during and after peak hours in the winter of 2016 and picked up traces of rhinovirus, the source of the common cold, and of the influenza A virus, reported the New York Times article. Did MOH do any such audit of the trays at our airport and other checkpoints?
It is important for us to remember that the spread of infectious diseases is not to be taken lightly and there must not by any compromise in this regard. It is unfortunate that while modern medicine has eradicated many diseases, now ones are evolving and these are at time even more lethal. We need to reboot our vigilance and go back to basics and remind everyone, children to adults, such stuff as the importance of keeping our hands clean every time.
Chinese please. 传染病的散播不容忽视，因此这次修法我十分支持。我想澄清几个问题。