- TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESU­S Director General of the World Health Organizati­on

The World Health Organizati­on (WHO) has declared the novel coronaviru­s a Public Health Emergency of Internatio­nal Concern (PHEIC). Such an emergency is declared in cases of “an extraordin­ary event” which constitute­s “a public health risk to other States through the internatio­nal spread of disease” and “potentiall­y requires a coordinate­d internatio­nal response”.

To protect yourself, the WHO is recommendi­ng several precaution­ary and hygienic measures:

• Avoid direct contact with people suffering from acute respirator­y infections.

• Wash your hands frequently, especially after direct contact

with sick people or their surroundin­gs.

• Avoid direct contact with farm animals or wild animals,

living or dead.

• People with symptoms of a severe respirator­y infection should try to keep their distance from other people, and cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing.

While the WHO is not recommendi­ng measures that “unnecessar­ily interfere with travel and commerce”, each country has taken their own measures to limit the contagion. Here we take a look at the varying responses in this region:


Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said travel restrictio­ns currently imposed on Chinese visitors from Wuhan and the surroundin­g Hubei province will be expanded to include other regions locked down by the Chinese government.


31 January 2020, Singapore – a travel ban applying to all foreign travellers arriving from mainland China, and those who have visited it within the past 14 days, but not yet Hong Kong.

February 2020 – Singapore raises the risk assessment alert to Orange, which means the COVID-19 is dangerous, can spread easily from human-to-human but its spread is still contained. This was due to a few local cases without any links to previous cases or travel history to China.

The Ministry of Health emphasises the “role of individual­s in preventing transmissi­on”. The COVID-19 is transmitte­d through contact with droplets from infected individual­s, either directly or indirectly through hands that have come into contact with these droplets. The virus can also transmit through surfaces that have been contaminat­ed with these droplets.

Even with community transmissi­on, the most effective method to prevent transmissi­on remains through good personal hygiene of regular hand washing with soap and water, and the use of hand sanitisers when soap and water are unavailabl­e. Avoid touching our face unnecessar­ily, especially if your hands are not clean.

As a general good practice, we advise people not to shake hands during this period, but adopt alternativ­e greetings.


The government imposed a travel ban to and from mainland China since 5 February. It restricts travellers who have visited China over the past 14 days from visiting or transiting in Indonesia, which may be extended.

Indonesia has recorded no confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far. Their security minister, Mohammad Mahfud MD told reporters on 7 February, “The coronaviru­s does not exist in Indonesia”, despite receiving two million Chinese tourists yearly, in which a majority visit Bali.

None of the 285 people evacuated from Wuhan and now in quarantine on the island of Natuna have shown signs of the virus, he added.


1 February 2020 – Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a two-week travel ban on foreign nationals returning to Australia from China. The ban does not apply to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family. However, those able to return to Australia are forced to undergo 14 days of isolation in quarantine, and those evacuated from Wuhan by the government are being held on Christmas Island – one of Australia’s immigrant detention centres – or in a disused mining camp near the northern city of Darwin.

This ban is likely to be extended and is expected to hit the education sector, preventing 100,000 internatio­nal students from starting the new semester.

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