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Top 10 questions about COVID-19 – answers by experts compiled.

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We are about to enter the third month of the COVID-19 outbreak which has sent the world into a flurry of panic. After all, there is very little known about the virus except for the fact that it is highly contagious and there is no known cure. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there is currently no anti-viral medicine or vaccine for this particular strain of coronavirus disease and that patients recover through supportive healthcare. [1]

The virus outbreak is all but driving the world into irrational frenzy. To add on to that, social media has helped fanned these fires with misinformation, fake news and even fake cures of the COVID-19.

During this epidemic, we’ve heard some strange things. Social media mentioned that garlic can help ward off the coronavirus (as though the virus is a vampire), pets were abandoned in China due to misguided fears of contamination of the virus and now, stranger things like cow urine parties have occurred in India – some leaders have advocated that cow urine has medicinal properties and is able to treat the coronavirus.

With COVID-19 on all of our minds these days, we’ve compiled infectious disease specialist Dr Leong Hoe Nam’s answers in brief to 10 commonly asked questions on the novel coronavirus. [2]

1. How does the COVID-19 virus spread from one person to another?

Similar to coughs and colds, the COVID-19 disease spreads through respiratory droplets and bodily fluids. For example, one can come into contact with the virus when an infected person coughs or sneezes near you. [3]

The other way the virus is transmitted is through contact with a contaminated surface usually with our hands, and then using our hands to touch various parts of our face. Through the eyes, nose or mouth, the virus can enter our bodies.

2. How do we distinguish between the COVID-19 virus and a normal flu?

It is not possible. The symptoms are the same, the usual fever, headache, sore throat, muscle aches, etc. [4] If you feel any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately for a quick diagnosis and practice social distancing. Infected individuals may also be asymptomatic, i.e. they do not show any symptoms.

3. How deadly is the COVID-19 and how to treat it?

The mortality is estimated at 3% but it may be lower than that. [5] Currently, there is no known vaccine for COVID-19 and the best way is good quality healthcare and supportive care. This includes sufficient hydration, nutrients, vitamins, oxygen, etc. [1]

4. Should I avoid public places?

According to Dr. Leong, he will still support his favorite hawker but he will not loiter. [2] Shopping malls and eateries seem to be busy as usual, showing that most Singaporeans are still out and about. However, definitely avoid crowded places since you would be in close contact with many.

5. Should I avoid taking taxis and Grabs?

If possible, yes. Dr Leong recommends to request to wind down all the windows of the car so that air can circulate, quickly diluting the virus and making it negligible. [2] The humidity and warmer air can also help protect you against the virus.

However, it is safe to say that people don’t make such requests and thus are at risk of contracting the virus if an infected person were to cough or sneeze in the cab. The virus can stay alive for longer periods of time in an air-conditioned space, circulating within the small confines of private hires and taxis.

6. Should I avoid swimming?

No you don’t have to. The virus would die in contact with water and chlorine in the pools is also known to kill respiratory viruses. [6]

7. How come such a simple thing like washing hands can help prevent me from getting coronavirus? Are hand sanitizers and wet wipes good alternatives?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to kill the virus is to wash your hands with soap and water. Keeping your hands clean is the most important thing you can do right now to prevent yourself from getting the COVID-19 virus. Soap can help to get rid germs and pathogens – types of microbes that can cause disease. [7]

It’s good to keep your hands clean as we would absent-mindedly touch our eyes, nose and mouth from time to time. So keeping them clean would also protect our face from getting infected with microbes and organisms. As Dr. Leong says, our face is sacred! [2]

Hand sanitizers are also a good way to keep your hands clean. If you do not have access to soap and water, hand sanitizers are a good option. According to Dr Edwin Chng, Medical Director of Parkway Shenton Hospital, hand sanitizers will need to have an alcohol content of at lpeast 60% to be effective. [8]

Wet wipes, on the other hand, are not ideal. They usually are gentle on the skin and do not contain much alcohol content. By wiping down surfaces using wet wipes, you’re essentially spreading the germs and virus all over the surface – like butter on toast. [2]

8. What is the proper way to wash my hands?

illustrations showing the 8 steps on how to wash your hand properly

First, wet your hands with clean, running water. The temperature of the water does not affect microbe removal.

Then, turn off the tap, apply soap and start scrubbing. The soap and friction help lift dirt and microbes from your skin so that they can be removed when you rinse off. Across countries worldwide, it seems that the guide to handwashing adopted is to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Just hum the Happy Birthday song to yourself from beginning to end twice and you’re all set. [7]

Remember to also dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them, as germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands.

9. What face mask should I wear and how do I wear one properly?

There are different types of face masks and they have provide varying amounts of protection from the virus: [9]

illustration comparing the difference between n95 masks and surgical mask

  • 1-ply surgical mask (“paper mask”): Very thin, usually white in colour. It’s too thin and does not constitute a good enough barrier to protect yourself against the virus.
  • 3-ply surgical mask: Much thicker compared to the 1-ply masks. They usually are coloured – they can come in green, blue or other colours. This type is the most effective and practical mask to protect yourself during this pandemic.
  • N95 masks: Gives excellent protection, but it can be very uncomfortable to wear. You may not be able to resist pulling or tugging at the mask, taking it off, etc; all of which involves touching your face, which may make matters worse. Usually, this is only recommended to be worn by medical workers who come in close contact with COVID-19 patients.

illustration showing the different layers inside a surgical mask

When you wear the surgical mask, the coloured side should be facing outwards. Pinch the stiff edge along your nose bridge to better fit the mask on your face. The mask should cover your nose and fit entirely below the chin. [9]

Follow these steps below on how to put on a face mask properly: 

illustration showing how you can wear surgical mask properly


10. What other things can we do to protect ourselves from the coronavirus?

Dr Leong suggests cleaning our mobile phones with a piece of alcohol wipe, at least three times a day. Our mobile phones are something our hands are in contact with all the time (texting, writing, surfing the net, etc) and we also quick to press them to our faces whenever we pick up a call. [2]

He also recommends to avoid shaking hands – a wave or greeting would suffice.

Other useful information on COVID-19

(1) If you are experiencing flu, cough or respiratory-like symptoms

There are currently 900 designated GP clinics and polyclinics as Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) for patients showing symptoms of respiratory illness to manage COVID-19 infections, at which:

  • Singaporean Citizens and Permanent Residents pay a flat subsidized fee of $10 for consultation
  • Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation seniors pay only $5 for consultation

Healthcare professionals have been advised to give patients with respiratory illness 5 days’ MC, which would help prevent the spreading of the disease at their workplace and allow patients to monitor their condition. These patients would also be encouraged to visit the same GP and refrain from doctor hopping if their condition persists and worsens. [10]

(2) If you’re planning to travel out of Singapore

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has recently issued an advisory to defer all non-essential travel for the next 30 days as part of the new COVID-19 measures, following the growing number of coronavirus cases globally.

This means that from 22 March onwards, if you travel out of Singapore any countries, you will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN), during which you must remain in your place of residence at all times. [11]

Read also: Covid-19: Kick the coronavirus in the ass with these tips


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). Evaluating and Testing Persons for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-criteria.html

[2] Rubaashini, S. (2020). Doctor previously infected with SARS says masks help in prevention of Wuhan virus but Singapore govt notes otherwise, from https://www.theonlinecitizen.com/2020/02/04/doctor-previously-infected-with-sars-says-masks-help-in

[3] Ministry Of Health Singapore (2020). Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), from https://www.moh.gov.sg/covid-19/faqs

[4] Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (2020), 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/symptoms.html

[5] Baud D. et al (2020). Real estimates of mortality following COVID-19 infection, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30195-X

[6] Howley E. K. (2020). Coronavirus and Swimming: What You Need to Know, from https://www.usms.org/fitness-and-training/articles-and-videos/articles/coronavirus-and-swimming-what-you-need-to-know

[7] Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (2020). When and How to Wash Your Hands, from https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html

[8] Khoo B. K. (2020). Do homemade hand sanitisers actually work? We ask the doctors, from https://cnalifestyle.channelnewsasia.com/wellness/homemade-hand-sanitiser-effective-doctors-advice-12397274?cid=facebook_keywee-cnalifestyle-sg_paid_15042019_cnamkt-lifestyle&kwp_0=1569540&kwp_4=4704842&kwp_1=1993568&fbclid=IwAR0jWE2qzFJIefLhx86tKmISy9bAtqf15FXIyrELGLZFGWr

[9] Chung C. (2020). Masks: How to choose, wear & dispose [Video], from https://medium.com/@cestclaire/masks-how-to-choose-wear-dispose-video-b22b4792b881

[10] Lai L. (2020). Coronavirus: Docs to give 5-day medical leave to patients with respiratory symptoms; subsidised rates for S’poreans at designated clinics, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/coronavirus-docs-to-give-5-day-medical-leave-to-patients-with-respiratory-symptoms

[11] Lau J. (2020). Coronavirus: Singapore residents who travel overseas may face consequences as Govt ramps up border controls, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/coronavirus-those-who-travel-overseas-for-holiday-may-face-consequences-as-govt

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