NEA officers may gain quicker forced access to homes
OFFICERS from the National Environment Agency (NEA) may soon be able to enter homes without permission more quickly to check for mosquito breeding spots. With Singapore facing the threat of a dengue epidemic, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, said he is looking into shortening the time it takes before officers can gain forced entry to inspect homes. He was speaking yesterday on the sidelines of a visit to the Seletar dengue cluster.
Currently, after an unsuccessful first home visit, the NEA tries for two to three weeks to contact the home owner to arrange an alternative inspection date before carrying out forced entry. But Dr Balakrishnan said he is looking into making this process more flexible, especially in clusters where there are more dengue cases. “But this has to be a balance of privacy and safety,” he said, adding that officers have made only two forced entries so far this year.
During his visit, he stopped by two neglected houses that he noted could harbour breeding grounds for mosquitoes in places such as toilet bowls that have not been flushed for some time. Under existing forced entry protocol, NEA informs only the respective home owners of its unsupervised inspections and subsequent findings. But Dr Balakrishnan said he would consider improving the transparency of the process. He said it would be reasonable and useful to inform immediate neighbours of the property where forced entry had to be conducted, and to alert them of the results. “It would show that NEA has done its job, and also calm any unnecessary speculation on the neighbours’ part.” But he added that the public cannot rely on legislative and enforcement efforts to fight the disease. “More important is a concerted community effort to eliminate breeding grounds,” he said.
During yesterday’s visit, an improved version of a device to check roof gutters more easily was also unveiled. The device is an “inspection pole” with a camera attached to one end that officers can use to check roof gutters without climbing up ladders. NEA said the device could help cut down on the time and manpower needed to conduct such checks. It can also allow officers to check roof gutters in areas where ladders cannot be used. The agency said 10 such poles have been deployed around Singapore since May in a pilot project to test the device in the field. A previous prototype had to be refined as the camera did not produce images of high-enough resolution to be useful, NEA said.
Dr Balakrishnan praised the new device but said it was not enough to win the fight against dengue. “Technology and legislation are not the complete solution,” he said. He noted that even if inspectors carried out fogging and other measures to curb the dengue problem, it would return if home owners did not prevent the mosquitoes from breeding by checking their homes for potential breeding sites. NEA yesterday said that of the 14 breeding sites found in the two Seletar dengue clusters, all but one were in homes. The sole outdoor breeding site was a depression in the concrete ground. Two of the indoor sites had more than 100 larvae in them, it said. “This is a problem that requires everyone to be civic-minded and play their part,” the minister said.
NEA also said there were 225 new cases of people diagnosed with dengue reported between Sunday and 2.30pm yesterday. This is the fourth straight week the number of cases has gone above the epidemic level of 191 weekly cases, which could trigger a rapid spread of infection.