A side-by-side comparison of how Hong Kong & S’pore have handled the coronavirus outbreak so far
Some similarities and also some differences.
Singapore’s novel coronavirus (nCoV) situation has been assessed to be DORSCON orange, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday, Feb. 7.
This means that the government considers the disease to be severe and easily spread from person to person, but has not yet spread widely within Singapore and is being contained.
Meanwhile, some 2,500km away, the special administrative region of Hong Kong is also facing a mounting coronavirus crisis.
So how have the two densely populated cities responded?
Here is a side-by-side timeline comparison between Hong Kong and Singapore, and the measures that each government has put in place to combat the virus.
December 31, 2019
On the last day of last year, with the situation in mainland China seeming ominous after 27 cases of infections reported, Hong Kong started putting in place emergency measures to combat a potential outbreak.
According to SCMP, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan announced a step up in border screening while putting hospitals on alert.
This included temperature screenings at every border checkpoint, such as the city’s international airport and high-speed railway station in West Kowloon.
“Since we are now in the holiday season, and Hong Kong has close transport ties with Wuhan, we must stay alert,” said Chan.
January 2, 2020
A Hong Kong woman was quarantined in a Hong Kong hospital after returning from a trip from Wuhan with symptoms of upper respiratory infection, according to SCMP.
SCMP reported that several sources the woman had been in Hong Kong during Christmas break, had had a fever which then subsided, and did not go to Huanan seafood market, where many of the cases in Wuhan appear to have originated.
Professor Yuen Kwok-yung from the University of Hong Kong told SCMP that the woman’s sample was still being investigated to understand the cause of her illness, and urged the public not to worry, saying that they had not yet identified anything significant.
“Her chance of having caught something serious is slim,” he said.
The MOH announced that it was aware of the cluster of severe pneumonia cases in Wuhan city of Hubei province, China and was monitoring the situation closely.
As a precautionary measure, the ministry alerted medical practitioners in Singapore to be vigilant and look out for any suspected cases of pneumonia among those who have travelled to Wuhan in the past 14 days.
Also announced was the implementation of temperature screening at Changi airport from 3 Jan. for travellers who were entering Singapore via flights from Wuhan.
Suspected cases will be referred to the hospitals for further assessments, the notice added.
MOH also advised all travellers to Wuhan to monitor their health closely, and to seek medical help promptly if they felt unwell.
January 4, 2020
SCMP reported that Hong Kong launched a new response mechanism for infectious diseases.
The response was immediately set at “serious” level — the second tier of the three-tier scale .
At this level, Hong Kong’s health minister began to chair a steering committee to coordinate government response work, would notify WHO of any locally confirmed cases, and activated an electronic platform for infection cases with the Hospital Authority.
One day prior, the special administrative region’s government also extended the criteria for surveillance.
This meant that anyone who had visited Wuhan within 14 days before the onset of the illness was required to report to health authorities if they were experiencing fever and respiratory symptoms.
Previously, only those who had visited wet markets in Wuhan were required to report.
Extra temperature-sensing devices were also added to the airport, specifically screening passengers travelling from Wuhan.
At the time, the number of suspected cases reported in Hong Kong stood at eight.
MOH announced Singapore’s first suspected case of the coronavirus: a three-year-old girl from China who had pneumonia, as well as travel history to Wuhan.
She was isolated as a precautionary measure, and was in stable condition.
Preliminary tests showed that she tested positive for the Respiratory Syncytial Virus, a common cause for childhood pneumonia, and there were ongoing tests to confirm that.
MOH later announced on Jan. 5 that investigations revealed that the case was not linked to the coronavirus that had originated in Wuhan.
At the time, MOH had not been notified of any other suspected cases.
They added that Singapore was likely to see more suspected cases as medical practitioners would be watching out for pneumonia patients with recent travel history to Wuhan.
They said that any such cases would be investigations for possible links to the Wuhan cluster of the virus, and that they were monitoring the situation closely.
January 7, 2020
Hong Kong’s Department of Health announced that it would be amending the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, laying the foundations for its government to take tougher precautions against the mysterious virus spreading on the mainland.
SCMP reported that this would give the government powers to put patients under quarantine if necessary, and make it mandatory for doctors to notify the authorities of any suspected cases in the city.
“Recently some patients have been leaving hospitals before completing medical check-ups,” Secretary Chan said.
She added, “the amendment of the law this time would be important for Hong Kong in preventing the spread of a new disease.”
January 20, 2020
Hong Kong took another step to strengthen its fight against the outbreak when it introduced the use of health declaration forms at the airports.
According to SCMP, it also expanded monitoring of local suspected cases to cover those with symptoms and arriving from Hubei province.
While at this point there were no confirmed cases yet, authorities were bracing the city for bad news.
“There may be the first confirmed case in Hong Kong at any minute, so we must not let our guard down, and have to be well prepared with the most adequate response in place,” said Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan.
MOH announced that it would be amping up its precautionary measures by implementing temperature screenings and issuing health advisories to all travellers returning from China, starting on Jan. 22.
Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said that they were “closely monitoring” the spread of the coronavirus to other parts of China and other countries, such as Thailand and Japan.
Lam said in a press release that, given Singapore’s position as a travel hub, we could expect to see more cases, and should not rule out the possibility of cases being imported.
January 22, 2020
The first two of Hong Kong’s reported cases of coronavirus were confirmed the same day that China’s death toll doubled, according to SCMP.
One case was a mainland Chinese tourist, 39, who arrived at the high-speed railway station in West Kowloon, while the other was a 56-year-old male who had visited Wuhan.
The 39-year-old patient had been identified at the railway station as having a fever.
But while he was stopped by authorities, his wife, two sons, and mother-in-law — all showing no symptoms — were let through, sparking a scramble to track them down after they departed Hong Kong for the Philippines.
SCMP reported that the second man had initially gone to the hospital on Jan. 19, claiming to be unwell.
When hospital staff found no symptoms of pneumonia, they sent him back home, only for him to return two days later.
This time, an X-ray found shadows in his lungs and he was sent to an isolation ward where he later tested positive for the coronavirus.
On the same day, SCMP reported that Hong Kong schools started taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
Different schools implemented different policies such as requiring students to bring masks to school, conducting regular temperature checks, sanitising of hands, and asking students about their recent travel history.
MOH issued a Public Health Travel Advisory advising travellers to avoid non-essential travel to Wuhan in light of the novel coronavirus that has plagued the capital of Hubei.
Travellers were also reminded to exercise caution and attention to public hygiene when travelling to the rest of China.
January 23, 2020
Monitoring of the coronavirus tightened with health declaration requirements extended to high-speed rail passengers, according to SCMP.
Additionally, two major Chinese New Year events were scrapped, with the city’s suspected cases rising to 135 on top of the two already-confirmed coronavirus patients.
Meanwhile, one day after Hong Kong had its first case, Singapore confirmed its first patient of the coronavirus.
The man from Wuhan arrived in Singapore with nine others on Jan. 20.
The 10 of them stayed at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort.
The carrier reportedly had a sore throat on the flight to Singapore and developed a fever and cough the next day.
He went to SGH on Jan. 22 and was isolated immediately after being diagnosed with pneumonia.
January 24, 2020
SCMP reported that three new cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed, more than doubling the tally to a total of five cases.
The three, all residents of Wuhan, had arrived in Hong Kong by high-speed rail.
Temperature screening would be conducted by healthcare assistants at all sea checkpoints, including ferry and cruise terminals, PSA Terminals and Jurong Port, for inbound travellers and ship crew.
Meanwhile, ICA would be implementing temperature screening checks at both Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints.
These were in response to the development of the coronavirus and the expected increase in travel volume due to Chinese New Year celebrations, said ICA.
January 26, 2020
The Hong Kong government moved to bar residents of Hubei province from entering the city.
According to CNA, the ban included those who have been in the province in the past 14 days but excluded Hong Kong citizens.
On the same day, protests erupted over Hong Kong’s government’s decisions over which areas to set aside for quarantine housing.
SCMP reported that police were called to a public housing block in the border town of Fanling as roads were blockaded and fires set by people furious over a government proposal to use the development as a potential quarantine site.
About 200 residents and masked protesters were on the streets in the evening, shouting angrily as they went about putting bricks in the road.
Before long, men started tossing petrol bombs, setting fire to ground floor areas of the estate that was to be set aside for quarantine.
Firefighters rushed to douse flames, while riot police confronted protestors.
January 27, 2020
SCMP reported that declaration forms that had previously been deemed mandatory at border checkpoints were not actually being collected.
A total of 394 residents from Hubei, including those who had visited the province in the last 14 days, were said to have been turned away since the travel ban kicked in.
However, officials admitted they were still working on measures to spot those coming from the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
A ministerial task force was assembled to tackle the coronavirus.
They announced a range of new measures seeking to prevent the virus from getting out of control.
- Implementing temperature screening for all flights arriving at Changi Airport
- Extra attention given to travellers with passports issued in Hubei
- An extended travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel to the whole of mainland China
- A 14-day leave of absence for all students and school (including preschool, polytechnics, and ITE) staff who have returned from mainland China in the past 14 days
- Confirmation that some university hostels have been converted to coronavirus quarantine facilities
January 28, 2020
Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced measures to drastically reduce cross-border travel with mainland China.
According to SCMP these included:
- the shutdown of the two railways
- the suspension of new visas to individual mainland tourists
- cutting flights to and from the mainland by 50 per cent
- reducing cross-border bus services
- closing two border checkpoints
- closing two ferry terminals
The measures stopped short of a full closure of Hong Kong’s borders to the mainland, a course of action that was building support amongst opposition politicians.
The government also announced that civil servants would be asked to work from home in an effort to minimise the threat of the coronavirus spreading, according to SCMP.
Many businesses followed the government’s lead by allowing employees to work remotely, restricting travel, and extending the Chinese New Year holiday.
It was also announced that public sports facilities, museums, and libraries, would be shut until further notice.
Plans to use a public housing estate in Fanling as a quarantine facility were rescinded in light of the fiery protests that took place on Jan. 26.
With seven cases confirmed in the country, the Singapore government announced a step-up in security measures against the coronavirus.
Recent travellers from Hubei already in Singapore would be contacted, and those assessed to be of higher risk would be quarantined.
Residents and long-term pass holders returning from travel to Hubei would also be quarantined, while new visitors with recent Hubei travel history would be denied entry into the country.
Additionally, the government announced that all new work pass applications from foreigners from the Hubei province in China would be denied until further notice.
January 29, 2020
SCMP reported that at least 90 nurses took sick leave in protest over the government’s decision not to close Hong Kong’s border crossings.
The demonstration is believed to have been an attempt to “sound the alarm” before a bigger strike that would take place soon after.
In light of the quarantine orders, MOH announced that it would be giving returning residents and long-term pass holders who are unable to work a S$100 a day allowance.
For those who were employed, the sum would be given to their employers, while the quarantined employees would continue to receive their usual salary from their companies.
Meanwhile, those who were self-employed would receive the allowance directly.
January 30, 2020
SCMP reported that schools and kindergartens in Hong Kong would be closed until at least Mar. 2.
Kindergartens, primary, and secondary schools, had previously had their breaks extended until Feb. 17.
Three universities confirmed that they would take similar measures.
On the same day, Hong Kong authorities assured the public that tens of millions of masks were being shipped to the city, according to SCMP.
The masks would be made available for purchase, which brings a comparison to Singapore, where…
It was announced that 5.2 million free masks would be packed by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and distributed to 1.37 million households.
Each household would be entitled to 4 surgical masks made available for collection at Community Centres and Residents’ Committee Centres.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) also secured the return of 92 Singaporeans from Wuhan.
January 31, 2020
All eight publicly funded universities in Hong Kong told students that had returned from holidays in mainland China that they would need to be self-quarantined for two weeks, according to SCMP.
By this date, Hong Kong had recorded 12 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
Singapore extended its travel restrictions to visitors with who had travelled to mainland China in the 14 days preceding their arrival.
The government also announced that they would be suspending entry into Singapore for anyone with a Chinese passport.
Singaporeans and Permanent Residents who had travelled to mainland China within the last 14 days would be able to enter Singapore, but they would be issued advisories to take 14-days Leave of Absence (LOA) from the time they left.
This was also true for foreigners holding long-term passes who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days, such as those with Work Passes and Permits, Student Passes, Dependent Passes and Long-term Visit Passes,
Additionally, complaints started to surface online about ICA frontline staff not receiving necessary protection from the coronavirus.
Responding to queries from Mothership, ICA said that their frontline staff were not wearing masks because their contact with the general public and travellers passing through our immigration counters was too transient to result in potential virus transmission.
This echoed the words of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who advised Singaporeans not to wear a mask unless they were unwell.
February 3, 2020
SCMP reported that more than 2,400 public hospital workers were staging a strike.
Their central demand was for the government to close the border with mainland China.
Hong Kong’s Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong responded saying that the government and the striking healthcare workers had a shared goal, which was to reduce the human flow between Hong Kong and affected areas.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong spoke in Parliament about the details of Singapore’s quarantine and leave of absence policies.
He said that as of the previous (Feb. 2) night, there were 524 people under quarantine, 222 of whom were in government quarantine facilities and the other 302 were serving their quarantines at home.
He said that the authorities would check on those under home quarantine through video calls, phone calls, and regular spot checks, in order to make sure they remain in their assigned quarantine location.
Quarantined individuals were required to stay in their assigned locations at all times during their quarantine period, and were not allowed to physically interact with others living in the same premises.
Those who break the quarantine order would be met with severe penalties including fines or jail, said Wong.
He said that while the quarantine and LOA measures were put in place to protect Singaporeans from the spread of the coronavirus, Singaporeans themselves also needed to do their part to cooperate.
February 4, 2020
Hong Kong confirmed its first death linked to the coronavirus.
SCMP reported that a 39-year-old man’s condition had deteriorated and he eventually succumbed to sudden heart failure.
He was also believed to have had underlying health issues.
The case became the second reported death outside of mainland China after the virus claimed the life of a victim in the Philippines.
The same day, SCMP also reported that Carrie Lam had ordered government officials not to wear surgical masks except in limited circumstances, in order to save supplies for medical staff on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.
She also encouraged the media to follow suit, as people using several masks every day imposed “a lot of pressure on an already tight supply”.
Similar to Singapore, Lam’s words incurred backlash from the public.
The first instance of human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus in Singapore was announced.
However, the government clarified that it did not consider the cluster of three cases — linked to a Chinese medicine hall in Lavender visited by a group of Chinese tourists — to be the result of widespread community transmission.
According to MOH Chief Health Scientist Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, that would involve a situation where authorities were unable to identify where individuals who were infected caught the infections.
On the same day, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development announced plans to implement measures protecting school students and staff.
The ministries said that large groups and communal activities, such as flag-raising assemblies, camps and mass celebrations, will be suspended.
Recess times in schools would also be staggered, while co-curricular activities and after-school programmes could continue in smaller groups.
February 5, 2020
Invoking special powers, Carrie Lam announced that Hong Kong would quarantine all arrivals from mainland China, including local residents, for 14 days.
SCMP reported that this would be done through invoking the chief executive’s special powers under the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance.
Lam also apologised for her comments the previous day demanding that government officials only wear masks under strict circumstances in a bid to conserve supplies.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) released a list of household cleaning products that would be effective against the coronavirus.
The agency said that this list of products, which was based on available data and active ingredients known to be effective against coronaviruses, could be used to disinfect areas that were likely to have been contaminated with the virus.
However, they cautioned that people should check the labels, use according to instruction, and be aware of potential hazards of each product prior to use.
NEA also added that detergent and water is adequate for general precautionary cleaning.
February 7, 2020
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told a news conference that anyone breaching the restrictions on travellers from mainland China would face a jail term of up to six months, a fine of up to HK$25,000 (S$4473) or both.
According to SCMP, Chueng refused to give out details of the new quarantine camps despite questions from reporters.
SCMP also reported that, despite the Hong Kong government’s assurances for locals not to worry, the city saw huge numbers of shopper panic-buying essentials.
This was despite Cheung’s assurance that there was no need for panic-buying, as the two-week quarantine of people arriving from mainland China would not affect the flow of goods available.
Community spread was confirmed in Singapore.
It came after contact tracing for the 29th confirmed case of coronavirus on the island could not establish a link to any previous cases or travel history to mainland China.
The three new cases confirmed on the same day also do not have any links to previous ones, but contact tracing is underway.
This prompted the government to raise its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level from yellow to orange.
In the aftermath of the government announcement that Singapore’s DORSCON level was Orange, Singaporeans, similar to their Hong Kong counterparts, began panic-shopping as well.
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said that while he understood people’s preoccupations with DORSCON Orange, Singaporeans needed to exercise individual responsibility and not hoard items unnecessarily.
He spoke out against such behaviour, saying that it would create undue panic.
Chan gave his assurance that Singapore’s supply lines for essentials such as rice and instant noodles are intact, and that there is no risk of a shortage of essential food or household items.
He also added that Singapore has a national stockpile for essential items.
February 8, 2020
Carrie Lam announced that since the 14-day mandatory quarantine scheme had taken effect, the cross-border traffic from had “drastically reduced”.
According to SCMP, she said that as of 4pm that day, after the new restrictions came into force, almost 9,000 travellers had entered the city. Out of those travellers, only 125 had used the Shenzhen Bay Port.
This was in comparison with the previous day, in which 60,000 people had entered Hong Kong using the same route, in order to get in before the quarantine measures were implemented.
Lam said that as of 4pm, 161 people, including 143 Hong Kong locals, had been issued with quarantine orders.
148 of them were under home quarantine, 11 were staying at hotels, and two were quarantined at government facilities.
She announced measures that the Hong Kong authorities might be using for ensuring that people cooperated with quarantines, such as calling and asking people to share their real-time locations using their cell phones.
She added, “But what is most important is that those under quarantine are cooperative and self-disciplined”.
Lam also admitted that the government was down to its last month’s supply of masks, and had bought 48 million from overseas and would be receiving another 17 million mainland China to address the shortages.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivered a message in three languages to Singaporeans, saying that the outbreak will be a test of S’pore’s social cohesion & psychological resilience.
He reassured Singaporeans that there is no need to stock up on essential supplies, as Singapore possesses ample supplies.
In his speech, PM Lee said that Singapore is better prepared to deal with the new coronavirus because of its experience tackling SARS. He said that fear can do more harm than the virus itself, and urged Singaporeans to stay calm in the face of the situation.
MOH announced that there were seven new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Singapore, bringing the total number to 40.
The ministry also said that of the confirmed cases that were still infected, most were in stable condition or improving.
However, there were four patients in critical condition warded in the intensive care unit, one of which required additional oxygen support.
It was also announced that MOH, together with the Singapore Police Force, identified three possible clusters of the coronavirus in Singapore: The Life Church and Missions Singapore, Yong Thai Hang (the health products shop visited by the Chinese tour group), and the Grand Hyatt Singapore (where several confirmed cases attended a meeting).
Top image by Florian Wehde and Zhu Hongzhi via Unsplash, illustration by Tan Guanzhen