Covid-19: No second wave of infections in Singapore yet, despite rise in community cases, says health minister

Health Minister Gan Yong Kim, co-chair of the multi-ministerial task force, speaking at a media conference on July 7, 2020. — TODAY pic
Health Minister Gan Yong Kim, co-chair of the multi-ministerial task force, speaking at a media conference on July 7, 2020. — TODAY pic

SINGAPORE, July 7 — More workplace Covid-19 cases have been reported since Singapore entered Phase 2 of the circuit breaker exit but the uptick in community transmissions does not amount to a second wave, as the numbers are still low and stable, the authorities said today.

Speaking at a multi-ministry task force media conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that since Singapore moved to reopen its economy and resume more activities on June 2, the daily number of infections here on the whole has stabilised and declined.

The vast majority of these cases continue to be migrant workers residing in foreign worker dormitories, he said, and this number has also gradually decreased as the authorities continue to systematically test the workers.

Gan, who is co-chair of the task force, noted that while there have been some imported cases in the past few days, all returning travellers are placed on stay-home notices immediately upon arrival.

These travellers — who comprise Singaporeans, permanent residents, work pass holders and long term pass holders — are also tested at the end of their stay-home notice period and confirmed to be free from the disease before they can join the wider community.

“Hence the risk of transmission for this particular group of returning travellers is low,” he said.

As for the cases within the community, Gan said the overall number of these cases still remains low — at around 6 to 7 per cent of the total number of cases on average.

But he acknowledged that these numbers have gone up in the last few days, from an average of eight new cases a day last week to 12 cases a day this week.

Since the Phase Two exit began, the percentage of community transmissions has also gone up in workplaces compared with Phase One, when the majority of the community transmissions occurred in households.

Still, Gan said this was something that the authorities had expected as economic and social activities have increased significantly since Singapore relaxed its movement control measures last month.

However, he cautioned that there is still a need for Singaporeans to remain vigilant to prevent a second wave of infections from hitting Singapore.

“We must continue to remain vigilant, because if we let our guards down, the virus will creep in, infections will grow and we will have a bigger problem on our hands,” he said.

“This way, we can continue with our daily activities while keeping the infection under control.”

Linked and unlinked cases in the community

Further breaking down the trends, Gan said the majority of the linked community cases — making up 57 per cent of the community cases since the start of Phase One — were detected through active case finding and contact tracing of close contacts.

As for the unlinked community cases, Mr Gan said majority of them were asymptomatic and detected through proactive screening of workers in sectors more vulnerable to disease transmission — such as construction, marine and process sectors and workers supporting frontline Covid-19 operations.

Almost half of the unlinked community cases are from the construction sector or workers in construction related occupations, such as architects, engineers and foremen, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who is the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force.

Of this group, two-thirds of them have tested positive during serological testing, indicating that they are likely to be past infections. Serological testing looks for antibodies which may indicate an earlier infection.

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), said there is no need to be too concerned about these cases as MOH is picking them up quickly through its active surveillance regime.

However, Mr Gan said that what is of great concern is the number of symptomatic unlinked community infections. These patients are picked up through routine screening for acute respiratory infection (ARI).

“These are cases that emerge in the community with no clear connection to any existing cluster, dormitories or the construction sector,” he said.

“If this number goes up significantly, we should be very careful as they may signal an increase in the underlying community transmission.”

That is why the authorities have already moved to expand community testing to all individuals aged 13 and above who are diagnosed with ARIs at the first presentation to a doctor.

They have also moved to ramp up its testing regime more aggressively, by expanding testing to include possible close contacts of Covid-19 patients. This expanded testing has been employed in a Tampines block with nine cases.

Mak added that the authorities are also working on making their workflow and work processes more efficient to ensure that Covid-19 patients receive their test results as soon as possible and, if possible, are isolated within the working day.

However, Gan cautioned Singaporeans against taking the nation’s expanded healthcare capacity for granted and letting their guard down as a result.

Agreeing, Wong said the Government cannot rule out the possibility of having to impose additional restrictions or even implementing a second nationwide lockdown.

“No one can rule out that possibility. Countries that have exited from lockdowns had to reimpose lockdowns,” he said.

“But we will try very hard not to have to go down that path and we are able to do so because we now have an expanded tool kit of control measures that we have been building up in the past few months,” he added.

“Hopefully with these measures we can control the infection effectively without having to impose a nationwide circuit breaker again.” — TODAY

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