SINGAPORE: Singapore must be prepared for a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and must do its best to avoid it, said Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong on Friday (Jul 17).
Speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference, Mr Gan cited the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in places like South Korea, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong, with large clusters forming at religious events, nightlife establishments, restaurants, and in schools.
He also noted that these new clusters arose because individuals went out when they were unwell, did not practice social distancing, or were susceptible to transmission because of workplace safety management lapses.
“We must be prepared for a second wave too, but we must do our best to avoid it if we can,” said Mr Gan, adding that there are “useful lessons” from the situation in other countries.
“That is why here in Singapore, we have taken a cautious approach in easing restrictions for some activities that we know to be of higher risk.
“For others that need to continue to function like workplaces, we have put in place a series of measures to reduce the risk of spread in these settings. Some of these measures create inconvenience, but it is better to be safe.”
Ministry of Health director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the task force has noticed that there were “a number” of transmissions occurring at workplaces, and clusters have arisen from some cases who were infected at work and then in turn infected household members.
MOH continues to be “aggressive” in ring-fencing and isolating all close contacts to disrupt the chain of transmission, he added.
The number of community unlinked cases remains a focus, and many of them are identified through routine and regular testing of frontline workers, and those in the construction, marine and process sectors, said Associate Professor Mak.
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With the “significant expansion” of economic activities and social interactions since the start of Phase 2, Singapore should expect to see the number of cases rise, said Mr Gan, adding that early detection and ring-fencing is important to prevent further transmissions and the formation of large clusters.
“The second wave is preventable if everyone plays a part. And I believe that if anyone can do it, Singaporeans can.”
COMMUNITY NUMBERS "REMAIN LOW"
Mr Gan noted that while the number of COVID-19 community cases has increased since “circuit breaker” measures were lifted about one-and-a-half months ago, the average continues to “remain low” at an average of about 12 per day in the past week, similar to that of the first week of July.
“We are always more concerned about the unlinked cases,” said Mr Gan, adding that about seven in 10 of the unlinked cases were asymptomatic and almost half were likely to be past infections.
“They will probably not have been detected if not for our active screening approach, as they are asymptomatic. This means that they are unlikely to see a doctor, because they are generally well, and they would not have been picked up otherwise.”
Since Jul 1, all individuals above the age of 13 who are diagnosed with acute respiratory symptoms at first presentation to a doctor have been tested for COVID-19, said Mr Gan, and an average of 2,400 cases are being tested per day.
The task force is keeping an “especially close watch” on symptomatic unlinked cases that are detected in the community through routine screening, he added.
“If these cases start rising, it could be an early signal to us that there may be an increase in the underlying transmission in the community.”
Assoc Prof Mak also noted that the number of cases detected in the community through testing of individuals who are above the age of 13 and diagnosed with acute respiratory symptoms at first presentation to a doctor has “come down very significantly”.
For example, out of 4191 samples collected between Jul 8 and Jul 10, only one case was picked up. “And it continues to confirm our belief that the incidence of community unlinked cases creeping infections remains low,” said Assoc Prof Mak.
AVOIDING ANOTHER CIRCUIT BREAKER
Responding to questions about the threshold for considering a tightening of safe distancing measures, Mr Gan said: “If the numbers go up, rather than a hard threshold beyond which we trigger another circuit breaker, or below which we just remain happy, when the numbers go up we do need to look at the nature of the numbers.”
Even if more measures are introduced, they are likely to be specific actions targeted at those identified as high risk areas or activities, he added.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said: “Basically we will try our very best through a whole range of measures not to have to go to another broad base circuit breaker or lockdown for the whole of Singapore.
“We want to avoid that. We don’t know if we can achieve that outcome, but I believe if everyone cooperates, and through the enhanced capabilities that we have now for testing and tracing, we will be able to do it.”
Adding that the number of cases seen is “somewhat dependent” on Singapore’s screening approach, Mr Gan said: “Furthermore, amongst these unlinked community cases we continue to see a large proportion linked to the construction related sectors. They are classified as unlinked because we cannot identify the specific individual or cluster that passed infection to them, but they appear to be linked broadly to the construction and related sectors.”
“But this is not the time to celebrate and be complacent. We are certainly not out of the woods yet globally.”
Watch the full news conference and Q&A session: