​In the face of an invisible threat, senior executive photojournalist Neo Xiaobin finds herself echoing the words of Dr Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious diseases specialist in Canada: "Facts, not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts."


As the world deals with Covid-19, the recently declared global pandemic that has claimed more than 6,000 lives and infected over 162,000 people, a quote by Dr Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious diseases specialist in Canada, stood out: "Facts, not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts."

In a Facebook post that has gone viral, his message made clear that the panic caused by coronavirus is making things much worse.

His plea is to temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education.

Leaders around the world have worked to reassure the public, urging people to stay calm and united, while businesses cope with the economic fallout and healthcare workers continue to do battle on the front line.

On Jan 23, Singapore General Hospital (SGH) treated the first Covid-19 patient in Singapore - a 66-year-old male Chinese national from Wuhan who had arrived in Singapore with his family on Jan 20. He was Case 1, and his 37 year-old son became Case 3.

Almost two months have gone by since.

While both were discharged last month, SGH and the other hospitals here continue their efforts to manage suspected and confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Singapore now has 226 Covid-19 cases.

At SGH, hospital staff volunteer their time to man the seven screening counters at the hospital entrances to help patients and visitors with self-declaration of travel history and health conditions.

Contact tracers race against the clock to gather information about an infected patient's journey two weeks prior to their hospital admission.

There are anecdotes of staff who missed their Chinese New Year reunion dinners and birthdays because they had to care for their patients.

One of the isolation ward nurses said her colleague played music from her mobile phone over the intercom for an intubated patient in the isolation room so that the patient would not feel lonely.

Hospital staff have been heartened by the messages of support, appreciation and encouragement from patients, colleagues and members of the public.

Senior staff nurse Teo Yen Yee, who is in her 40s, was especially touched by a Grab driver who insisted on giving her a token of appreciation and handwritten note after driving her to the hospital to start her afternoon shift in the isolation ward.

It said: "Thank you for your service and bravery in caring for the sick in such a time as this! Stay safe!"

No stranger to rejections and cancellations by other cab drivers previously, this small gesture made her day.

It has not been an easy task to be on the front line, to balance professionalism with positivity.

When the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) hit Singapore in 2003, I felt the pressure of the N95 mask against my face.

Fresh out of junior college and waiting to enter university, I was then working as a patient service assistant at Changi General Hospital.

It was a different era - no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and social media.

Today, as a photojournalist armed with a camera, I find myself on a different front line with a role to document, inform and educate.

As a mother to a two-year-old and daughter to ageing parents, I understand the need for social responsibility.

My routine now includes taking my temperature twice daily, regularly washing my hands, resisting the urge to touch my face and grabbing a shower immediately after I return home from a shoot.

I also keep a log of my whereabouts as I work from home with the office's split operations arrangement.

As the epicentre of the outbreak shifts away from China and the number of people diagnosed with Covid-19 grows around the world, experts are saying that the virus is here to stay for at least a year.

In the face of an invisible threat, I find myself echoing the words of Dr Sharkawy.

Clean hands. Open hearts.