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The COVID-19 emergency phase is over

COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency of international concern or PHEIC, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced on Friday. The decision follows the recommendation by the organisation’s COVID-19 emergency committee to end the emergency phase as deaths and hospitalisations from SARS-CoV-2 continued to decrease. Despite the downgrade, countries should not lower their guard as COVID-19 remains a global health threat, stressed the WHO’s Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus.

Launched: Duke-NUS COVID Stories in print

Duke-NUS today celebrated the launch of the Duke-NUS COVID Stories book that chronicles the milestones charted in this timeline alongside the personal stories of the researchers, clinician-scientists and alumni who made the discoveries.

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Worsening mental health crisis may now cost Singapore almost S$16 billion a year

Anxiety and depression may cost Singapore nearly S$16 billion a year, or 2.9 per cent of the nation’s gross domestic product. That’s the headline figure Professor Eric Finkelstein and his collaborators from the Institute of Mental Health calculated from a survey of adults in Singapore, in which they found that two in ten adults reported experiencing symptoms of either depression or anxiety, or both. This was the first study to estimate the prevalence and economic burden of depression and anxiety in Singapore after the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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An end to the pandemic

Three years after Singapore raised its DORSCON level to orange, the multi-ministry taskforce announced that the national disease outbreak risk alert would be lowered to green from Monday, 13 February 2023, marking the official end of the pandemic in Singapore. All remaining measures such as mask-wearing on public transport would be lifted and the taskforce dissolved.



Special recognition for those who led the fight against COVID-19

The Singapore government recognised more than 100,000 individuals for their outstanding contributions to the fight against COVID-19 with special national COVID awards.

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Singapore unveils national preparedness and response programme

First mentioned by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat in 2021, the national Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Response (PREPARE) was officially launched by the Ministry of Health today.

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Inactivated and mRNA vaccines elicit different immune responses

Inactivated and mRNA vaccines trigger distinct populations of immune cells when administered.

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Omicron variant evolved to escape immune response

The Omicron variant evolved to escape the immune response better than other variants and related coronaviruses in humans, bats and pangolins.

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COVID-19 infection confers nasal-based immunity against the SARS-CoV-2 virus

Scientists from Duke-NUS detected long-lasting immune cells that fight SARS-CoV-2 in the noses of vaccinated individuals who were subsequently infected with COVID-19.

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Rapid PCR test helps determine levels of long-lasting immunity against SARS-CoV-2

A rapid test that measures the body’s active immune T-cell defenses against SARS-CoV-2 was developed by a research team that includes Duke-NUS researchers.

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Advancing outbreak preparedness for the region

“Even as we emerge from this crisis, the world cannot be complacent about the risk of future pandemics and so we have decided to pull various resources together to form a Centre for Outbreak Preparedness.” 

Mr Goh Yew Lin, Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board

Duke-NUS boosts regional pandemic preparedness with new centre

Duke-NUS today launched the Centre for Outbreak Preparedness or COP. The new Centre will improve health security across South and Southeast Asia, by partnering institutions like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation and Singapore-based partners.

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Singapore’s national alert level downgraded to yellow

As Singapore emerged from its first Omicron wave without seeing a spike in COVID-19 hospitalisations, the government announced that from today, the national risk framework for disease outbreaks, commonly referred to by the acronym DORSCON, would be lowered from orange to yellow. It had been at orange since 7 February 2020.

This change also heralded the end of a raft of restrictions, including safe distancing between people as well as groups and Health Risk Notices for close contacts of COVID-19 patients. Fully vaccinated healthy travellers could now enter Singapore without taking a pre-departure COVID-19 test.

PM announces easing of Singapore’s COVID-19 safety measures

Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore would ease its safe distancing measures come 29 March. This was a significant milestone in the nation’s fight against SARS-CoV-2 and a decisive move towards living with COVID-19—just short of a complete opening up.

Most significantly, wearing masks outdoors would become optional, though it would remain mandatory indoors.

Kamini Kunasegaran among five lab techs honoured with special COVID-19 Hero Award

Ms Kamini Kunasegaran made the Bertoletti lab’s pivot from studying the hepatitis B virus to SARS-CoV-2 a practical reality.

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The pandemic rages on

Today marked the second anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. Six million people had died worldwide.

On the same day in Singapore, the multi-ministry taskforce announced that from 15 March, safe management measures would be streamlined to ease the nation’s transition to becoming COVID-19 resilient and resuming more social and economic activities.

Singapore’s death toll crosses the one thousand mark

Deaths from COVID-19 crossed the one thousand mark, less than two weeks after Singapore’s first Omicron wave peaked at 26,032 new infections on 22 February 2022.

Singapore’s kidney transplant patients and donors less distressed than healthy people around the world

Kidney transplant recipients and donors in Singapore felt less distressed during the COVID-19 pandemic than the general population around the world, reported clinician-scientist and kidney specialist Professor Tazeen H Jafar, from the Health Services and Systems Research Programme at Duke-NUS, and her colleagues.

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A node in global pandemic preparedness

“We are a key node in the global pandemic preparedness network. This means that we feed and receive information to empower people to act quickly and decisively when a threat like SARS-CoV-2 emerges. It is our duty to maintain and grow this network of partners and collaborators. We must also continue to invest in research on emerging infectious diseases so that we can respond even faster and better to the next pandemic.”

Professor Ho Teck Hua, Deputy Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board, and Provost, National University of Singapore

Nepal greenlights trial of novel combination therapy co-developed by Duke-NUS

A novel combination therapy today received the greenlight to proceed with testing from regulators in Nepal.

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Half the world vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2

From the outbreak of the pandemic, it took just over two years for half the world’s population to be fully vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, according to Our World in Data. In Singapore, 93 per cent of the eligible population — that is everyone aged five and older — had received two doses of the vaccine.

This global milestone coincided with a surge in Omicron cases. Unlike previous waves, this time, hopes were high that hospitalisations would remain low.

Duke-NUS’ ‘batman’ honoured with the President’s Science Medal

President Madam Halimah Yacob presented Professor Wang Linfa with the award at the 2021 President’s Science and Technology Awards in recognition of his global leadership in solving the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and advancing understanding of bat biology and emerging infectious diseases.

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Courageous enough to push boundaries

We want people who are not only excellent doctors, schooled in their trade, who put their patients’ best interest first, but also students who understand how to conduct research and can reap the benefits of research to derive clinical applications. They will therefore be able to contribute beyond delivering clinical care. They are the students who are willing and courageous enough to push the boundaries, not just in traditional areas of research, but in areas of innovation. These distinctives are a very strong part of the heritage of Duke-NUS.”

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health

Saliva-based rapid test provides hope for sensitive sniffers

SARS-CoV-2 testing was an integral part of many people’s lives in Singapore. With access to anti-COVID pills from primary-care settings on the horizon, the eye-watering, sinus-stinging experience of an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) swab looked set to stay on beyond the need for routine testing.

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A T-cell-triggering COVID-19 vaccine?

In a Nature paper published today, scientists from University College London together with collaborators from across the United Kingdom, Europe and Singapore, reported that boosting T cells that target the highly conserved region of the SARS-CoV-2 genome can supplement spike-specific antibodies in next-generation vaccines against emerging coronaviruses.

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More than half the world received at least one dose

Almost exactly 11 months after the first dose of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine was administered outside of a clinical trial, more than half the world’s population had received at least one jab.

In Singapore, 85 per cent of the population was fully vaccinated, and 18 per cent had received a booster as the country battled a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant.

A world leader in emerging infectious diseases

There was no doubt in my mind that Duke-NUS had a significant role to play in the national response to COVID-19, in particular through the outstanding Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme. Their innovations and research discoveries were truly world-class, and their expert advice has been widely sought both in Singapore and around the world.”

Mr Goh Yew Lin, Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board

COVID-19 researchers celebrated for excellence

This evening, the COVID-19 Research Workgroup was recognised at the National Medical Excellence Awards for its notable efforts in shaping the pandemic response in Singapore.

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Tazeen H Jafar: Fighting the sting in the long tail of COVID-19

The “shadow pandemic” of psychological distress is this clinician-scientist’s top concern.

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Critical mass of scientific talent

“Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme was launched even before the opening of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Having an established Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme meant that we had research facilities as well as the critical mass of scientific talent already available at Duke-NUS when COVID-19 emerged. This was clearly a farsighted move which has benefited us as these scientific and research resources have contributed to our national effort to combat COVID-19. And when we’re looking to improve and expand our national research infrastructure for pandemic preparedness, Duke-NUS scientists are again at the forefront, contributing in this area.”

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health

Singapore will form a new national pandemic preparedness programme

Speaking at the second-anniversary celebration of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat highlighted that preparing for the next pandemic would be a key area of the national Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2025 plans.

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A new, fast way to track elusive T cells

For the longest time, the study of T cells remained the domain of specialist research laboratories like Professor Antonio Bertoletti’s lab at Duke-NUS. With an acute frontline need for a full picture of the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination, Bertoletti and his team developed a simple and rapid method to measure the T-cell immune response to SARS-CoV-2.

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Singapore: The world’s most vaccinated country

The nation became the world’s most vaccinated country with 80 per cent of its 5.7 million population fully inoculated. That was the threshold set by the government for considering further easing of pandemic control measures.

Ooi Yaw Shin: Mapping the path of a sneaky pathogen

This Duke-NUS virologist aims to break SARS-CoV-2 infection cycles at a molecular level.

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“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”

By August 2021, the world was once again in the midst of a rapidly swelling wave of SARS-CoV-2 infections. With new information continuing to come out at an exponential rate, Duke-NUS researchers took stock.

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Chia Wan Ni and Tan Chee Wah: Solving not just this pandemic but future ones too

A Duke-NUS research team chats candidly about their mission to develop a dream vaccine.

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We need to be two steps ahead

“We have been thinking on our feet and reacting to the virus. What we need to do is move ahead of the curve. So, a vaccine that can address current and future variants — that is the way to go because we need to be two steps ahead of this virus and the same applies to disease X.”

Professor Ivy Ng, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Group CEO, SingHealth

Duke-NUS scientists identify neutralising antibodies that take out more than SARS-CoV-2

By studying the neutralising antibodies of SARS survivors who had been vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, a cross-disciplinary research team led by Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme identified powerful antibodies that could neutralise not just SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 but also similar viruses in the same sub-genus of coronaviruses.

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Ashley St John: Fighting COVID-19 by tackling the body’s excessive fires

SARS-CoV-2’s inflammation profile is something quite unique, immunologist Associate Professor Ashley St John realised early in February 2020. While most resources had been diverted to contain the pandemic and uncover the first building blocks—such as the genomic sequence of the virus—that would underpin subsequent discovery science, St John knew she, too, could contribute and make a difference.

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Global entity adds ARCT-021 to its Phase III study

ARCT-021 was selected by a global entity as a vaccine candidate in a multi-national Phase III trial, Arcturus Therapeutics announced today.

The vaccine candidate ARTCT-021, which was identified through a collaboration between Arcturus Therapeutics and Duke-NUS, would be evaluated in tens of thousands of people as a single dose regimen.

Balancing academic and mental health needs

The education team rose to the challenge posed by the pandemic, delivering a curriculum while also focusing on students’ mental wellbeing. Many clinical faculty members led by example, demonstrating how to live during a pandemic as a doctor or researcher. When the next pandemic strikes, I have faith that our students will be ready to step up and become role models themselves.”

Professor Ho Teck Hua, Deputy Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board, and Provost, National University of Singapore

Marcus Ong: Looking at the “what ifs?” through healthcare system modelling

A clinician-scientist’s journey through the pandemic.

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Keeping a finger on the pulse

We need to keep a finger on the pulse through regional networks. It is critical to share knowledge and collaborate — not just about the pandemic, but helping each other design infrastructure, services and building trust. You then have feelers out to get first-hand information of changes during a crisis like this.”

Professor Ivy Ng, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Group CEO, SingHealth

Sean Lam: Modelling systems to keep hospitals going

A data scientist’s calculations help steer the healthcare system through the pandemic.

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US allows cPass™ patent application in record time

cPass™, the novel surrogate virus neutralisation test (sVNT) invented by Duke-NUS and co-developed with A*STAR’s Diagnostics Development Hub and GenScript Biotech, received notice of allowance for its patent application today.

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Tighter restrictions come into effect

In its ongoing battle against the Delta variant, the multi-ministry taskforce tightened restrictions as clusters erupted at the Jurong Fishery Port and in karaoke or KTV lounges across the island.

A day earlier, SafeEntry requirements — that is the need to check in using a mobile device or token — had been introduced at wet markets and hawker centres to help with contact tracing.

The Phase II Heightened Alert would remain in place until 8 August.

Jenny Low: Juggling a surge in clinical demand, breakneck-speed research and the long tail of COVID-19

This clinician-scientist would rather trade all her accomplishments for a COVID-free 2020.

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National vaccination programme extended

Starting today, 40 to 44-year-old individuals could register for their vaccinations. So far, nearly two million people in Singapore, mainly those aged above 44, had received at least one dose, with a totaly of 3.4 million jabs administered.

They contribute to the almost 10 per cent of the global population who were fully or partially vaccinated by this point.

Singapore adds further curbs

As the Delta variant continued to seep into the country, unlinked local community cases flared up, some rapidly spiralling into large clusters of infections. To curb this spread, the multi-ministry taskforce announced further curbs to “decisively arrest” the rise in community cases.

Among the latest safe distancing measures, group sizes were further cut to two people and dining in at food outlets was banned.

The Heightened Alert would run until 13 June.

Delta variant a global concern

Early research showed that Delta, known as B.1.617, was spreading faster and more easily than the original, or wild-type, SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Today, it became the fourth variant to be classified as of global concern after Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

Just a day before, Singapore had announced enhanced COVID-19 measures for air and sea ports. These came in the wake of a local outbreak, driven by the Delta variant that had seen the nation re-instate previously eased restrictions.

Singapore taps the brakes harder

A further tightening of restrictions came into effect today.

Gatherings were once again limited to five people, down from eight, and more people would have to work from home again. Those were the first measures that had to be tightened since Singapore entered the third phase of its reopening.

These measures were initially slated to remain in place until 30 May.

Singapore hits the first hurdle to full re-opening

As the Delta variant continued to spread rapidly, a cluster of COVID-19 cases had emerged at one of Singapore’s largest hospitals.

Along with rising cases in the community, the multi-ministry taskforce announced precautionary measures to minimise outward transmission from the hospital cluster.

Calling on the community to remain vigilant, the taskforce asked everyone to minimise their social interactions to help break the chain of transmission. Other curbs affecting malls and outdoor attractions were also introduced while BBQ pits and campsites were closed.

The curbs were initially planned to last for two weeks, till 14 May 2021.

SARS-CoV-2 is “officially” airborne

The acknowledgment from the World Health Organisation (WHO) came after The Lancet published a letter from researchers urging a change in position.

The WHO’s update stated that “the virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small liquid particles when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe. These particles range from larger respiratory droplets to smaller aerosols.”

More than 150 million people infected globally

A combination of variants enabled SARS-CoV-2 infections to spread at unprecedented speeds. This rise was driven largely by the Delta variant, which was crossing the Indian subcontinent, and Brazil's struggle to vaccinate its population against the Gamma variant.

Global death toll rockets past three million

The United States and Brazil were leading that tally with more than 566,000 and 368,000 deaths respectively, according to the tracker from John Hopkins University.

A day earlier, World Health Organisation Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that the world “is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far."

Singapore, too, would be returning to a state of heightened alert in the weeks that followed as the nation would go on to battle the Delta variant that was rapidly sweeping across the globe.

Ruklanthi de Alwis: Contributing to the greater good through science and communication

Trekking in the Himalayas was when this big Twitter fan first caught wind of a new virus.

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Part II of Singapore’s “Vaccine Quest”

The second episode of “The Vaccine Quest”, a two-part Channel NewsAsia documentary, was released today.

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Educating the public

“While our scientists and doctors were fighting the virus on the frontlines, it was essential to educate the public on how the war was being fought. Seeing our scientists make time to educate people and help make sense of the situation was really gratifying. They created value by making everyone smarter and safer. This empowered all of us to become responsible citizens.”

Professor Ho Teck Hua, Deputy Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board, and Provost, National University of Singapore

Communicating science during the pandemic

Science communication remains vital during a pandemic.

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Documenting Singapore’s “Vaccine Quest”


The first episode of “The Vaccine Quest”, a two-part documentary, aired on Channel NewsAsia today.

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SARS-CoV-2 triggers immune response even in the absence of symptoms

The body’s ability to mount a virus-specific T-cell response is not necessarily linked with symptom severity, a new study by Duke-NUS researchers and colleagues from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore found.

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Duke-NUS’ ‘batman’ elected to American Academy of Microbiology

Among the 65 new fellows inducted into the American Academy of Microbiology, Professor Wang Linfa from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme was perhaps a more unusual candidate.

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Among the headlines, one Duke-NUS researcher celebrates a little bundle of joy

Life went on despite the rapid pace of the pandemic. Martin Linster, newly promoted to assistant professor, and his wife, Marina, welcomed a baby girl, Norah, as others on the Little Red dot were busy ushering in the Lunar New Year.


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Study: Many SARS-CoV-2-like coronaviruses lurk in Southeast Asian bats and pangolins

From bats to pangolins, SARS-CoV-2-related coronaviruses are circulating in wildlife across Southeast Asia, a new study found.

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Duke-NUS professor among frontliners awarded Singaporean of the Year 2020

In an award that recognised all the “selfless workers and volunteers who stepped forward” during the first year of the pandemic, The Straits Times recognised Professor Ooi Eng Eong from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, for his contribution to the development of vaccines.

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Who needs mental health interventions the most?

One in three adults experienced COVID-19-related psychological distress. These were the findings of a research team led by clinician-scientist Professor Tazeen H Jafar from the Health Services and Systems Research Programme at Duke-NUS.

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Worldwide infections top 100 million

Even as local cases continued to drop in Singapore, the global tally of infections crossed the 100 million mark.

The United States was the worst-affected nation, with 25 million infections and 420,000 deaths. India, where the Delta variant had first been identified in October 2020, came next, with 10.6 million infections, followed by Brazil with 8.8 million, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.

World Health Organisation Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus reiterated the importance of vaccine equity, saying, “The stakes could not be higher. Every moment counts.”

T cells key to preventing severe COVID-19

Comparing T-cell responses between different groups of COVID-19 patients, researchers from Duke-NUS found that people who had mild symptoms produced the strongest virus-specific T cells early on in their infections.

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Global death toll doubles in just three months to more than two million

Despite this grim milestone, the World Health Organisation warned that the worst could yet lie ahead as more infectious variants may increase this figure. In the United States, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasted that worldwide deaths from SARS-CoV-2 could approach 2.9 million by 1 April 2021.

Meanwhile, in Singapore, the national vaccination drive was underway and local and imported cases remained low as safety measures continued to pay off.

Gavin Smith: Preparation for an outbreak is what we do every day

On the first anniversary of the release of the first SARS-CoV-2 sequence, the professor in Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme reflects on rallying his lab to sequence SARS-CoV-2 and the need to lay the groundwork now for an even faster start—next time.

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Gamma joins Alpha and Beta as a VOC

A virus is declared a variant of concern (VOC) when it has evolved one or more of the following features: The virus becomes more transmissible, causes more severe disease, and/or renders public health measures, vaccines and treatments less effective.

Gamma’s new status as a VOC came after the World Health Organisation declared Alpha and Beta, first documented in the United Kingdom and South Africa respectively, as VOCs on 18 December 2020.

First signs of another SARS-CoV-2 variant

Four travellers who had arrived in Japan from Brazil’s Amazonas state carried a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 that had been spreading in the South American nation’s largest state since December 2020.

Early analyses would reveal that this variant shared a few mutations with variant isolates of concern from the United Kingdom and South Africa.

It would go on to become the third variant of concern, Gamma.

Eugenia Ong: Zooming in on the genes regulating the COVID-19 immune response

Studying the information conveyed in genes, this scientist recalls the intense days of the pandemic.

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Singapore residents first in Asia to receive vaccine

Singapore, in a first for Asia, began its nationwide SARS-CoV-2 vaccination campaign today. More than 30 healthcare workers from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine this morning.

Senior NCID staff nurse Ms Sarah Lim was first in line for the vaccine. The injection, she told local reporters, felt like an “ant bite”.

“I am feeling fine,” added Ms Lim, who screened suspected SARS-CoV-2 cases. “I wanted to take the injection to protect myself, my loved ones, my patients and the public.”

She hoped that other Singaporeans would take the vaccine when more doses became available in subsequent weeks.

Ooi Eng Eong: “We need vaccine security”

The need for a self-sufficient Singapore motivates one researcher’s quest for a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

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Singapore moves into Phase III of re-opening

The most significant allowances among Singapore’s Phase III re-opening measures included eight-person social gatherings, increased capacity limits for malls as well as religious services of up to 250 persons.

Phase III came about through effective safe management measures, sufficient SARS-CoV-2 testing capabilities and high adoption of the TraceTogether contact tracing app.

Singapore is first Asian country to approve mRNA vaccine

The Singapore Health Sciences Authority today announced its approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine for pandemic use. The first batches of this vaccine would arrive by the end of the month and the vaccine would be made available free to citizens and long-term residents.

Singapore was one of a handful of countries worldwide, and the first in Asia, to approve the vaccine.

“When you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a special address broadcast live to the nation. “You are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones.”

UK grandmother becomes the first to be inoculated in any mass vaccination programme

The 90-year-old received the first mRNA vaccine dose administered under a mass vaccination programme at 6.31am GMT on Tuesday, 8 December 2020.

Singapore’s national vaccination programme would start just over three weeks later on 30 December 2020.

Duke-NUS professor among six heroes named ST Asians of the Year

For his role in spearheading vaccine development, Professor Ooi Eng Eong from Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, was one of six individuals honoured with The Straits Times’ Asians of the Year Award.

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Top NUS award for rising young research star

“SARS is gone and it won’t be coming back, so this is a waste of money,” immunologist Associate Professor Ashley St John was told many years ago when she applied for funding for a SARS-CoV-1 vaccine project. “It seems unbelievable now.”

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More than 50 million people infected worldwide

The true number, however, was thought to be higher as many countries’ testing capacity could not keep up, and not all those who were infected got tested.

With the northern hemisphere heading into winter, the virus surged with new cases reported over the previous 30 days accounting for a quarter of the 50 million cases.

At the same time, Singapore reported zero local transmissions today, and only one over the preceding seven days.

Wang Linfa: The origins of cPass™

From Hendra to SARS-CoV-1, Wang Linfa brought all this experience to bear in the fight against COVID-19.

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World’s first surrogate virus neutralising antibody test gets greenlight

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today authorised the emergency use of cPass™, a world-first kit for detecting antibodies that neutralise SARS-CoV-2 easily, efficiently and quickly.

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Uncovering hidden vaccine hesitancy

Twenty-two per cent of Singapore residents said that they would never choose to get vaccinated, a survey led by Duke-NUS health economist Professor Eric Finkelstein found.

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Eric Finkelstein: From economist to mental health advocate

How did COVID-19 affect Singapore’s national mood?

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The first look at the impending sea change

The first B1.671 genome was uploaded to international database GISAID today. This new variant, which originated from India, was thought to be about twice as infectious as the original, or wild-type, SARS-CoV-2. People infected with it were more likely to need hospitalisation.

The variant would go on to be named Delta and become the dominant strain around the world in 2021.

Global death toll passes one million

According to Johns Hopkins University’s tally, global coronavirus deaths crossed the one million mark today, some nine months after the virus was first discovered.

The grim milestone came just days after the World Health Organisation warned that deaths could rapidly reach two million.

While more than 33 million infections had been confirmed worldwide, Singapore’s tally stood at 27 deaths and 57,742 confirmed infections.

Spurring innovation

“When you are in the thick of the action on the healthcare side of the house, you see the gaps almost immediately — what do we still need to know, what can we do better — and on the Duke-NUS side of the house, you have expertise in areas like emerging infectious diseases and innovation; and when you bring all this expertise together, you get many achievements.”

Professor Ivy Ng, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Group CEO, SingHealth

Rena Dharmawan: Delivering innovations during a pandemic

Leveraging the pandemic, this surgeon-innovator proves that even in healthcare, new ideas can be turned into innovations fast.

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The robot will swab you now

Six months after serial entrepreneur and cancer surgeon then-Clinical Assistant Professor Rena Dharmawan first conceptualised the idea, she along with a team of clinicians from the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) and engineers from local medical robotics company Biobot Surgical unveiled SwabBot, the world’s first automated nasal swab robot.

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Duke-NUS young scientist honoured as trailblazer

Prestige Singapore named Dr Eugenia Ong, a then-senior research fellow both with Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme and the Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre at SingHealth Duke-NUS (ViREMiCS), among its list of Singapore’s most successful, innovative and influential young people.

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Mutation unmasks the virus to the immune system

At a time when few genetic changes of SARS-CoV-2 had been described, researchers from Duke-NUS, A*STAR and the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, published two papers describing a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus detected in Singapore, which resulted in milder infections compared with wild-type or ancestral virus infections.

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Challenges inherent in being a small nation

“The attention then shifted away from only developing local diagnostic tests to developing effective therapeutics and vaccines against COVID-19. Again, Duke-NUS made strong contributions in the research space, with innovative research performed to develop our own local vaccine. It was and remains challenging to develop a vaccine in Singapore. While non-human research work may be initially performed in Singapore, it is difficult to launch local studies on the efficacy and safety of vaccines because you need large numbers of participants in Phase II and III studies as well as a relatively high incidence of COVID-19 infection with sufficient numbers of COVID-19 infected persons to be able to study the effect of vaccinations against infection.”

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health

First volunteers join in moonshot COVID-19 vaccine mission

The first doses of LUNAR-COV19, an investigational self-replicating mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, developed by Duke-NUS and Arcturus Therapeutics, were administered to a group of healthy volunteers in a trial in Singapore, the company announced today.

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Ascertaining the true lay of the land

Preprints were being uploaded at a fierce rate. Faced with this tsunami of information, Associate Professor Ashley St John from Duke-NUS and then Postdoctoral Research Scholar Abhay P S Rathore from Duke University published a review of various immune responses in the lung during and after SARS-CoV-2 infection, synthesising what was known at that point and drawing out deeper insights.

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First evidence of the power of a new serology test

Less than six weeks after announcing the commercialisation of a novel serological test, Duke-NUS scientists reported the first testing data.

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First trial for moonshot vaccine approved

The first clinical trial for LUNAR-COV19 (as ARCT-021 was then called) was greenlighted today. The study would evaluate several dose levels of this self-replicating mRNA vaccine in more than 100 healthy adult volunteers.

In preclinical data, a single 0.2 µg dose of ARCT-021 promised to generate a robust immune response.

ARCT-021 was jointly developed by Duke-NUS and Arcturus Therapeutics and the first dose would be administered in just under a month, on 11 August 2020.

Yvonne Su: Learning from previous and current pandemics

This evolutionary biologist-turned-virus-decoder finds that a quarter of Singapore’s diseases stem from a virus variant, and that her daughter helped a classmate through a difficult COVID situation.

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Stronger together

“The pandemic has taught us that you need the foundations. The foundations must be good, built on strong partnerships forged in peacetime. And inherent in that is trust within the Academic Medical Centre and the knowledge of the different pockets of expertise. That put us in a good place to adapt and innovate.”

Professor Ivy Ng, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Group CEO, SingHealth

Antonio Bertoletti: Championing the hard-to-study T cells

This authority on T cells pivots to lend his expertise to tackle the new threat.

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Turning the spotlight on T cells

In one of the first publications on this topic, a team of Singapore scientists, led by researchers from Professor Antonio Bertoletti’s lab at Duke-NUS, discovered that people who recovered from COVID-19 or had previously been infected with its precursor SARS-CoV-1, retained long-lasting memory T cells that could confer some level of cell-mediated immunity.

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A global calamity with more than 500,000 deaths

Half a million people across the globe had died from COVID-19, and more than 10 million infections were straining hospitals and clinicians, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker.

At the same time, the world hit a record number of daily infections — more than 189,000 in 24 hours.

Just 10 days earlier, Singapore had entered the second phase of reopening and researchers were returning to the Duke-NUS campus in greater numbers again.

Bringing the intensity and sound of an emergency room online

Virtual telesimulation lessons can be effective alternatives when in-person teaching is not possible, medical researchers including Ms Kirsty Freeman, the lead for the Clinical Performance Centre at Duke-NUS, found.

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Ashley St John: Making sense of immune response research

This immunologist turned a torrent of data about the early immune responses of SARS-CoV-2 patients worldwide into an accessible data stream.

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Weathering the pandemic storm as Duke-NUS during the Circuit Breaker

Collegiality, compromise and teamwork help Duke-NUS researchers reach warp speed.

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Duke-NUS’ virtual Hippocratic Oath ceremony: Another first in Singapore!

The Duke-NUS Class of 2020 graduated on 29 May 2020 while the nation was still in circuit-breaker mode.

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Singapore unveils the world’s first rapid test for SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibodies

cPass™, a simple test to detect whether someone has previously been infected with SARS-CoV-2, was jointly developed by Duke-NUS, A*STAR and global biotechnology group GenScript Biotech.

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Innovating medical education

“Our education team rapidly deployed many innovations to sustain teaching through the lockdowns, and their papers on these experiences were both widely read and cited.”

Mr Goh Yew Lin, Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board

Making high-stakes exams COVID safe

Duke-NUS’s education team rallies for a second time to deliver clinical exams at the height of the Circuit Breaker.

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National effort to tackle COVID-19 on three research fronts

Three national-level studies targeting different segments of Singapore’s population, namely healthcare workers, children and people at high risk of COVID-19 exposure, were launched today.

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The good and bad of plasma therapy and plasma-derived vaccines: what we know so far

During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, plasma-based therapies were a low-hanging fruit that held the potential of yielding effective treatments — and even vaccine candidates — against this then-unknown virus as they could be moved from bench to bedside fast.

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Singapore announces Circuit Breaker to curb COVID-19 spread

The government’s key measure to minimise the spread of SARS-CoV-2 saw most businesses, except essential services, adopting a work-from-home model. Schools shifted to home-based learning.

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Kamini Kunasegaran and Adeline Chia: The tweet that launched a sprint

The Bertoletti lab would work flat out through the Circuit Breaker, digging beyond antibodies to discover more about the immune system’s response to SARS-CoV-2.

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And they shall pass: Duke-NUS’ COVID-safe clinical exams lead the world

A MedEdPublish case study of how Duke-NUS planned and conducted its final-year clinical skills exams under pandemic-era conditions showed that it was possible — even in trying and safely distanced times — for students to complete their exams and graduate as planned without compromising competency.

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Clinical trial volunteer receives world’s first dose of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine

The first volunteer was injected today with an initial dose of an experimental vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 called mRNA-1273 at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, Washington.

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Treating COVID-19 with your ‘own’ immune cells

More often associated with the treatment of cancer, immunotherapy could also be used to treat infectious diseases, suggested a team from Duke-NUS.

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COVID-19 declared a pandemic

The disease was no longer local. It had hit more countries. The World Health Organisation’s announcement came about six weeks after the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, amid worries about its growing severity and rapid spread.

That same day, Singapore announced its 166th confirmed case, while contact tracing continued to identify cases with links to previously announced cases, a chain that had been established through another milestone achievement for the nation and Duke-NUS.

Duke-NUS and Arcturus Therapeutics join forces to develop an mRNA-based vaccine with a difference

The co-development of a self-replicating mRNA-based vaccine kicked off today. The collaboration combined Arcturus’ STARR technology with Duke-NUS’ rapid screening platform developed by Professor Ooi Eng Eong’s team.

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A dynamic immune response shapes COVID-19 progression

As the first cases of a novel coronavirus were detected in Singapore, a team of clinician-scientists from Duke-NUS and the Viral Research and Experimental Medicine Centre at SingHealth Duke-NUS (ViREMiCS) closely tracked patients’ immune response to help shed light on how this virus interacts with the human immune system.

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Exceeding expectations

“Despite being a relatively small institution, Duke-NUS was at the forefront of Singapore’s battle against COVID-19. The willingness of the scientists there and at NUS to serve the country and the world was impressive. They exceeded my expectations with their commitment to science and service. They provided us with a great deal of knowledge, showed us how to navigate a pandemic, and helped us realise what we can achieve as a team when we collaborate openly.”

Professor Ho Teck Hua, Deputy Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board, and Provost, National University of Singapore

Singapore PM, DPM commend Duke-NUS, contact tracers

Singapore Prime Minister Mr Lee Hsien Loong and Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat publicly commended a team from Duke-NUS for uncovering the hidden link between the Grace Assembly of God and the Life Church and Missions SARS-CoV-2 clusters.

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Duke-NUS researchers link SARS-CoV-2 clusters and help shape cPass™

Chia Wan Ni and Tan Chee Wah, two early career researchers in the “Linfa lab”.

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A world first: Duke-NUS’ serology test links SARS-CoV-2 clusters

Serological testing uncovered the hidden link between SARS-CoV-2 clusters associated with two churches in Singapore at a time when the nation was focused on containing the rapidly growing threat of the new virus.

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Simulating COVID-19’s effect on Singapore’s health system

Would there be enough beds? What about nurses? What would the impact be on patients who didn’t have COVID-19? Questions like these drove a multi-disciplinary Duke-NUS research team as they set about planning for the likely effects of COVID-19 on Singapore’s healthcare system.

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“Coronavirus disease 2019” officially becomes COVID-19

“CO” stands for “corona”, “VI” for “virus”, “D” for “disease” and “19” for when the outbreak was first identified — 31 December 2019.

The virus behind the growing outbreak became the SARS-CoV-2 virus, part of the same family as the SARS virus known as SARS-CoV-1.

From Hendra to Wuhan: Lessons in emerging zoonotic viruses

“Although the source of 2019-nCoV is yet to be confirmed, early findings suggest a high possibility of a bat origin,” wrote Professor Wang Linfa, then-Director of Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, and a team of international infectious disease experts in the Lancet.

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Kirsty Freeman: Planes will fly again

An educator adapts to restrictions and being in a new job while alone in a new country.

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Responding, re-imagining and re-thinking medical education during COVID-19

It was Friday lunchtime when the news came that clinical training across Singapore’s healthcare system was suspended with immediate effect.

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Singapore raises disease threat level

DORSCON — or Disease Outbreak Response System Condition — is a colour-coded framework that tracks disease situations in Singapore, spanning four levels of increasing disease severity: green, yellow, orange and red.

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A stress test for the School

“In every way, this crisis has validated the foresight of the Singapore government in establishing this research-focused graduate medical school in 2005. The crisis has both stress-tested the School and proven its clinician-scientist model as a critical component of healthcare education and research in Singapore, as well as its value and significance globally.”

Mr Goh Yew Lin, Chairman, Duke-NUS Governing Board

Martin Linster: Ferrying patient samples and isolating viruses

A veteran of high-containment labs returns to the hot zone just in time to sequence SARS-CoV-2.

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Duke-NUS scientists successfully culture SARS-CoV-2

Just one week after Singapore detected its first case of SARS-CoV-2 on its shores, scientists at Duke-NUS made a breakthrough.

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Prepared for this eventuality, Duke-NUS activates its response plan

The morning after the first case was reported in Singapore, about 10 experts from Duke-NUS’ safety team and Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Programme met in a conference room for an urgent meeting. Another five or so dialed in via phone — virtual meetings had yet to become the norm.

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Developing a test fast

The team at Duke-NUS worked with other researchers and also with the National Public Health Laboratory on developing diagnostic test kits to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 infection. This early work was instrumental in allowing us to us to have a diagnostic test kit very early on, even before the first case came to Singapore, to diagnose COVID-19 with confidence. This was very different from SARS, which we encountered a decade before, when the diagnosis of SARS infection was often made clinically and based on epidemiological history, without the benefit of any confirmatory diagnostic test.”

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Duke-NUS Governing Board Member, and Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health

Novel coronavirus hits Singapore shores

This evening, less than 24 hours after Singapore’s outbreak strategy had been launched, the Ministry of Health confirmed the country’s first case of the novel coronavirus.

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Singapore sets up multi-ministry taskforce

This taskforce included nine of Singapore’s government ministries.

It was established to tackle the novel virus should it reach Singapore’s shores.

Speaking to media, then-Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong said that he and then-Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong would be co-chairs.

Wang Linfa: At Ground Zero of the pandemic

In the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic’s city of origin, a Duke-NUS scientist experiences first-hand an unprecedented level of medical security.

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The first sequence of the virus’ genome

Sequencing the virus’ genome is the first step in fighting any novel virus outbreak. Using that data, scientists create reagents for tests to detect infections. From there, targeted interventions follow. The world’s first look at this virus’ genome came from researchers at the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre & School of Public Health.

They would be followed in the days and weeks to come by scientists from Australia and Singapore, including experts from Duke-NUS Medical School.

The virus claims its first life

A 61-year-old buyer from the Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market was the first person to die from the novel coronavirus.

Commenting on the situation, the World Health Organisation stated that a new type of coronavirus, the family of viruses behind the 2003 SARS outbreak and MERS, was the likely cause of the outbreak.

New coronavirus behind outbreak

Scientists from China’s National Institute of Viral Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the novel coronavirus, first isolated four days earlier, was the cause of the viral pneumonia of unknown cause that had been spreading in Wuhan.

They noted that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) are this virus’ closest antecedents.

To the reader: How it all began

Today, China’s health authorities informed the World Health Organisation that a pneumonia of unknown cause was circulating in the central transport hub city of Wuhan.

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