I recently returned from a vacation in Australia, and my flights routed through Singapore airport both ways. I spent over 12 hours in a layover in the transit lounge and saw great practices in place to minimize the spread of.
I also saw some poor hygiene practices from my fellow travelers.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) seems to be spreading around the world -- with more countries reporting confirmed cases of the virus. Over 80,000 people in China have been infected with the virus since it was discovered in Wuhan at the end of 2019.
New infections outside of China demonstrated that the virus is now spreading faster than inside, with Italy, South Korea, and Iran reporting a jump in the number of infections.
Singapore has largely been able to contain the local spread. It's been focusing on managing the risk of imported cases flying into the country, winning praise for its approach. Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that Singapore will block entry and transit for new visitors who traveled to Iran, Northern Italy. or South Korea within the last 14 days to try to minimize the spread of COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
My airport experience
When I got off the flight from London in mid-February, all arriving passengers had to walk past a set of remote temperature detecting cameras, staffed by three airport workers. Everyone moving from all gates at each transit terminal had to pass these cameras. People with normal temperatures looked like ghostly blue figures as they walked past the thermal sensors.
Warmer objects, such as motorized carts, appeared yellow as they drove through the transit areas. I did not see anyone being pulled out of the lines for further testing. I reckon that I went past three sets of remote thermal cameras as I went from the entrance gate, through the shopping and restaurant areas, and on to the departure gates.
In Singapore, temperature screening -- a practice used to deal with SARS and is now deemed standard in helping detect potential infections -- is not the only layer of checks made at entry points. Travelers that exhibit fever and other symptoms may be required to undergo a COVID-19 swab test at the checkpoint.
All travelers, including Singaporeans, who do not comply with testing may face penalties. Singapore also has a strict hospital and stay-at-home quarantine process for anyone who might be infected. So far, it has quarantined over 2,500 people.
There is no cure for the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, antibiotics do not work, as they fight off bacteria and are not effective against viral infections. However, in San Diego, scientists plan to trial a potential vaccine INO-4800 in summer 2020.
Poor hygiene practices
Travelers who might have been a little paranoid about traveling through Singapore were wearing surgical masks. However, some did not know how to wear them correctly. I noted that about one in 10 people only covered their mouths with the mask -- not their nose as well. Many had their masks pulled down below their chin to talk to others.
Some travelers wore heavy-duty N95 respirator masks instead of surgical masks. These respirator masks are tight-fitting with minimal leakage and reduce exposure to small particles. Surgical masks are loose fitting and allow leakage around the edges of the mask. The virus could easily slip around the loose seal of the mask. Breathing warm moist air over time makes the mask moist, and more susceptible to pass particles through it. If you do wear a mask, make sure to change it often.
The mask is most useful in stopping you from touching your face. Touching your eyes, nose, or mouth spreads infections from your hands to your face, where the moist mucosal tissue enables germs to enter your body.
And we touch our faces often. The University of New South Wales published a study reporting that students touched their faces 23 times per hour, touching mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, or eyes.
To minimize the spread of infection, I saw several teams of cleaners wiping and disinfecting surfaces such as door handles -- especially in the washrooms -- and the trash cans were regularly emptied. Singapore seemed efficient at trying to stop any potential spread of infection.
I have been back from my holiday for over a week now and have not felt sick since I returned. I am still very careful about washing my hands (and singing) -- even when I'm working from home. I am sure I will be fine. Hopefully, when you travel, so will you.