How Singapore IRs drew on experience of SARS epidemic to prepare for COVID-19

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Pua Uei (Singapore) talks to Interventional News about how Singapore’s interventional radiologists (IRs) in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and National Centre for Infectious Disease (NCID) dealt with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Singapore was one of the first countries to register a case outside of China, notes Uei, who adds that as the NCID had previously been on the frontline of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, “preparing for outbreaks was nothing really new to us”.

The “challenge for interventional radiology”, says Uei, was community spread of the virus, which meant that it was no longer possible to effectively identify and segregate COVID-positive and COVID-negative patients. “From past experiences with SARS, it is vital to put a mask on any patient undergoing a procedure to reduce the risk of unprotected contact”, Uei states, adding that such a move was made in Singapore “before masks were made mandatory”.

The second thing that “threw a spanner in the works” early on in the pandemic, as medical facilities were preparing their response to the viral threat, was the existence of asymptomatic spreaders. “We have had to be very responsive,” Uei reflects. “Every time we learn something new about the virus, we have to react to it and put in measures to protect patients”.

He outlines how vital resources were managed: “The moment we knew it was coming, we had stoppages of leave and vacation, and we cancelled academic teaching. As a result there was more manpower than ever. “We were very judicious with regards to the preservation of personal protective equipment (PPE) due to the global supply chain disruption; we had rules on how long you could use a surgical mask and how many times you should reuse an N95 (respirator).”

Uei also touches on the mental health toll caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis, and the fatigue felt by healthcare workers on the frontline. He notes that it is important that experienced physicians, such as those who worked through the SARS epidemic, help provide perspective and support to their more junior colleagues.


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