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Singapore hawkers suffer blow as Bukit Merah tuberculosis cases keep patrons away: ‘they don’t even dare to come to take away’

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Also speaking to the media on Thursday, the area’s Member of Parliament, Eric Chua, noted the fall in traffic at the food centre and exhorted patrons to return.

“I would also like to urge everyone to not avoid ABC market because the business here has been quite badly affected since news of this TB screening came out,” he said.

Mandatory screening for tuberculosis in the Bukit Merah area began on Thursday in the authorities’ largest such exercise to date. The exercise comes after another 10 active cases were detected, linked to a cluster first uncovered in 2022.

These 10 cases were discovered between February 2022 and July 2023, and linked to the cluster through genetic analysis.

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For this exercise, mandatory screening, which is free, applies to those who live and work in Block 1 and Block 3 Jalan Bukit Merah, those who work at ABC Brickworks Market and Food Centre, and clients and staff of the Thong Kheng Seniors Activity Centre in Block 3 Jalan Bukit Merah. Those who frequently visit the area are also welcome to undergo free voluntary screening.

The exercise involves staff from the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) conducting door-to-door screenings of residents in their homes. A large tent has also been set up beside Block 3 Jalan Bukit Merah for screening purposes.

Speaking to the media outside the tent on Thursday, group director of MOH’s Communicable Diseases Group Professor Vernon Lee said that more than 1,500 people, or 93 per cent of those identified for mandatory screening, have registered, while more than 500 individuals have registered for voluntary screening.

“The difference between those that are slated for mandatory screening [is] that the potential risk of exposure is higher compared to those for voluntary screening where the potential risk of exposure is lower,” he said.

“We encourage everyone who [is] eligible for mandatory or voluntary screening to please come forward so that we can screen you and so that we can identify any potential cases of TB for early management and to prevent onward transmission.”

In all, the exercise is expected to cover around 3,000 people who live and work in Bukit Merah.

Not only me, every store [is bad]. I think it will be like this for a few weeks. Hopefully it will be better soon

Hawker Lim

“All of the active TB disease cases have been treated and rendered non-infectious. However, as an additional precaution, we are running this TB screening exercise to identify any TB cases that might be undetected, and in doing so, prevent the risk of transmission of TB as far as possible,” Professor Lee said.

“TB is a curable disease if treated early. Therefore, we want to identify any cases, treat them early and prevent the transmission of TB.”

He added that the authorities had been engaging residents of the affected blocks and workers at the food centre to educate them about the disease and answer their questions.

Yong, a hawker who sells soup at ABC Brickworks, closed his stall due to the drop in business.

The 69-year-old, who declined to give his full name, had gone for his mandatory screening on Thursday but decided to head home after.

“When the newspaper announced the screening, there was a 50 per cent drop in business,” he said in Mandarin.

“Since there is such a drop in business, I might as well take a break and don’t waste my time. If you cannot earn money you might as well rest. The ingredients I use to make my soup are not cheap,” he said.

Many customers have stayed away from Singapore’s ABC Brickworks Market and Food Centre after tuberculosis screening for the area began on January 11. Photo: CNA

Another hawker whose stall sells satay and chicken wings described the situation as “very, very bad”.

“Not only me, every store [is bad]. I think it will be like this for a few weeks. Hopefully it will be better soon,” said Lim, who also cited having 50 per cent fewer customers than before.

Personally, Lim is not worried about his health as he has read about how tuberculosis is spread.

According to MOH, transmission of the tuberculosis bacteria from active cases usually requires prolonged exposure – days to weeks of exposure rather than minutes to hours. It also said a person cannot get tuberculosis from sharing cups, utensils or food.

Tuberculosis is also not spread through shaking hands, kissing or touching bedlinens or toilet seats.

Referring to this information, a regular patron who gave his name as Loh, said: “Life has to go on. You just have to take precautions.”

A resident takes part in a tuberculosis screening exercise in Bukit Merah. Photo: CNA

Loh, who was seen seated at the food centre, said he was in the area about four to five times a week to visit a relative.

The 54-year-old, who works in the technology industry, intends to go for voluntary screening but notes that the disease is not as serious as Covid.

“Covid is more serious, because it’s more infections and it spreads very fast and the impact can be felt within days. So this one probably we just have to be more cautious, so wear masks when necessary.”

Expressing the same sentiments, lawmaker Chua told the media: “TB is quite unlike Covid. It does not spread as easily.”

“There’s plenty of good hawker food here at this market,” he added.

“And I’m sure that we will all like to continue supporting our favourite hawkers so that their livelihoods are not too adversely impacted.”

Tuberculosis has a long latent period and may not develop into disease for months or years, MOH said previously. Those with latent tuberculosis infections do not exhibit symptoms, are not infectious and do not pose a public health risk. Only active cases are infectious.

Singapore saw 1,251 new active tuberculosis cases in 2022.

This story was first published by CNA

Article was originally published from here

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