Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, at the Launch of the National Dengue Prevention Campaign 2020, at Ang Mo Kio Central Stage on Sunday, 22 March 2020
Dr Koh Poh Koon
Adviser to Ang Mo Kio GRC GROs
Ladies and Gentlemen
1 Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us at today’s launch of the National Dengue Prevention Campaign 2020.
2 Yesterday, the Ministry of Health announced that two COVID-19 patients had passed away due to complications, despite the best efforts of the medical team. Our thoughts are with their families. I understand many are worried by this news. We have taken this virus very seriously from the start, and will continue to enhance our precautionary measures, including implementing safe distancing measures. Let us all take the necessary measures as advised and support one another through this difficult period.
Current Dengue Situation
3 Indeed, 2020 has been a challenging year for the world and Singapore, as we continue to battle the COVID-19 situation. But this is not the only public health threat that Singaporeans face. Over 4,000 dengue cases have been reported since the start of this year, which is double the number of dengue cases reported in the same period last year.
4 This unusually high number of cases outside the typical peak dengue season is a cause for concern. As we enter the warmer months of the year, there could be more instances of transmission.
5 The surge in dengue cases is due to three key factors. First, the presence of the less common Dengue virus serotype 3, or DENV-3. We have detected more DENV-3 cases over the past four months. As Singapore has not experienced such a DENV-3 outbreak in almost 30 years, our population has lower immunity against DENV-3. It is still too early to determine if there is a switch in the predominant dengue virus serotype, but the National Environment Agency, or NEA, is monitoring the situation closely.
6 The second cause for the surge in dengue cases is the high Aedes aegypti mosquito population in some areas. Climate change has led to warmer temperatures and more intense rainfall, which facilitate the faster multiplication of the Aedes aegypti mosquito and dengue virus.
7 So first, we have a less common dengue virus serotype emerging and lower immunity against it, and second, we have more Aedes mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus. This has resulted in a higher number of dengue cases, which in turn increases the chances of dengue transmission. So that is the third reason for the surge in dengue cases we are seeing.
8 There are currently 300 to 400 cases per week. If the three factors I mentioned persist, this number could rise beyond the historical weekly peak of 891 cases recorded in July 2014, during the peak season.
9 The launch of the National Dengue Prevention campaign is traditionally held in April or May. But we decided to bring it forward this year to raise the alert on the dengue surge and encourage everyone to do their part. It is critical that we act now to reduce the risks of increased transmission.
NEA’s Dengue Prevention Efforts
10 NEA has been doing its part by engaging key stakeholders, such as members of the Inter-Agency Dengue Task Force and Town Councils, to remove potential mosquito breeding habitats from public areas and housing estates. From January to February this year, NEA conducted about 161,000 inspections. During the inspections, NEA uncovered about 3,200 instances of mosquito breeding habitats islandwide.
11 In addition, NEA has strengthened our Gravitrap surveillance system. The Gravitrap is designed to attract and trap female Aedes adult mosquitoes that are looking for sites to lay their eggs in. It also prevents the emergence of any mosquitoes from eggs that are laid in the trap. A total of 14,000 Gravitraps were deployed to newly completed HDB blocks and landed housing estates in January this year. We now have a more comprehensive vector surveillance capability to aid our vector control efforts. With better surveillance and analytics capabilities, we have observed a 90 per cent increase in the detection rate of Aedes larval habitats found in homes for the past three years.
12 We need everyone to take personal responsibility. NEA’s efforts alone cannot stem dengue transmission, given the short breeding cycle of seven days for the Aedes mosquito. We need everyone to do the Mozzie Wipeout regularly. In some of the large dengue clusters, NEA had detected repeated mosquito breeding in the same homes despite giving multiple alerts to residents. I therefore appeal to residents to do your part to remove potential breeding habitats in your homes, to keep you and our communities safe.
Need for Collective Action
13 Last month, NEA launched the “SG Clean” campaign to galvanise collective community action to keep our public spaces clean. While the campaign addresses the immediate risks from COVID-19, it also sets out to improve public hygiene and cleanliness for the long term. This is critical to safeguarding public health.
14 For instance, we should always dispose our litter properly to prevent them from collecting stagnant water, which are potential mosquito breeding habitats. Over the past three years, more than 3,000 mosquito breeding habitats were linked to containers and receptacles found in public areas. About 65 per cent of these receptacles – such as plastic containers and empty drink cans – had been improperly discarded. At home, it is also important that we remove stagnant water from potential mosquito breeding spots, such as flower pot plates, vases, pails and hardened soil. These simple yet important steps will help to eradicate mosquito breeding habitats and keep our loved ones safe.
15 To facilitate community action, we have published information on areas with relatively higher Aedes aegypti mosquito population on the NEA website and myENV app. I encourage everyone to subscribe to this information alert, so that we can take early action to prevent dengue clusters.
16 NEA is also putting up posters at the lift lobbies of HDB blocks to inform residents of upcoming inspections and insecticide spraying for all homes within the dengue cluster areas. I ask for your cooperation to allow NEA officers to carry out the checks and spraying in your homes. We should also inform our family, neighbours and friends about these efforts so that they are aware and lend support.
17 Let me conclude. I thank all our Grassroots Leaders, volunteers and residents who have been supporting Singapore’s journey to combat dengue. Let us come together to keep dengue at bay and safeguard the health of our loved ones and community.