COVID-19: No active plans to go back to Phase 1 after election, says MOH director of medical services

COVID-19: No active plans to go back to Phase 1 after election, says MOH director of medical services

Raffles Place - phase 1 circuit breaker (3)
The Arcade at Raffles Place almost deserted during lunch hour on Jun 9, 2020. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, this building was usually bustling with people visiting money changers. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: There are no active plans to return to Phase 1 of the post-"circuit breaker" period immediately after the General Election, the Ministry of Health's (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said on Tuesday (Jul 7).

Singapore exited its circuit breaker period on Jun 1 and moved into Phase 1 of reopening the day after. The country moved into Phase 2 on Jun 19. 

READ: Symptomatic, unlinked COVID-19 cases in the community a 'greater concern' even as number of daily cases fall: Gan Kim Yong

READ: About half of unlinked COVID-19 community cases detected after circuit breaker were from construction sector: Lawrence Wong

Under Phase 1, social gatherings were prohibited, as was dining in at F&B establishments. Most retail outlets also remained closed.

"There has been some talk, I understand, on social media about how after elections, we're going to clamp down and go back to Phase 1, we'll lock down again," said Associate Professor Mak. 

He was speaking in response to a question about what level of community infection would be considered a strain on the healthcare infrastructure, and if the multi-ministry task force would consider moving Singapore back to Phase 1 or the circuit breaker.

"Indeed at this point in time, we continue to keep a close watch on the community, but we don't have, actively, plans to say that immediately after the election, we're going to quickly go back into Phase 1, that's not the case," Assoc Prof Mak added.

"But we are working on our contingencies, we’re mindful that we may see clusters emerging in various places, we do not want to be complacent, and as a result we are working on our responses should any of these scenarios bear fruit."

He said while it is important to prepare for the worst, and "be happy" if it does not occur, the task force did not want to "over react at this point in time".

"We continue to allow for safe resumption of services in the community, but that requires all of us in the community to do our part, to maintain our discipline, to actively practise safe distancing measures, to protect each and every one of us," he said.

The number of community cases has remained "low overall", but the number of such cases has "increased somewhat" over the last few days, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong. 

SECOND WAVE OF INFECTIONS?

Assoc Prof Mak said the task force did not see the rise in the number of new community cases as a second wave of infections, attributing it to an increase in social interactions post-circuit breaker.

READ: Increase in number of new COVID-19 community cases in Phase 2 ‘not unexpected’: Gan Kim Yong

But Mr Gan said the risk of a second wave of infections "is always there" and advised people to remain vigilant.

Mr Gan said he was concerned after a number of COVID-19 cases was detected within the same household at Block 111, Tampines Street 11, and more so after a second household in the same block tested positive for COVID-19.

This could have led to a "potentially significant cluster" if it had spread further, the health minister said.

"In many of these scenarios ... you are also expecting to see potentially some super spreading events, like what we have seen in the SAFRA cluster for example," he said, referring to how a small group of infections "suddenly" multiplied.

"And that actually will bring forth potentially a second wave, with the sheer number of people being infected at the same time, and the the risk of further infection would increase quite significantly.

"So these are the signs that we will be monitoring. Every time when we see potential signs of risk of a second wave, we try to move fast and move aggressively and do more than what is usually the standard practice."

MOH had identified 58 households living in the same section of the Tampines block, put them on phone surveillance and offered them testing.

Mr Gan said on Tuesday that 118 residents and visitors have been tested so far and all results have come back negative for the coronavirus.

POSSIBILITY OF ANOTHER CIRCUIT BREAKER

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said this ability to expand testing and take quicker and more targeted actions will help Singapore avoid returning to Phase 1 of a circuit breaker.

"We might very well have to do extensive sweeps or swab testing around that area," he said.

"We might have to do an extensive quarantine around that area of the people who have been in contact, or we might even have to do a localised restriction measure for that particular area if there is a cluster in that area."

But Mr Wong said the Government cannot rule out having to impose additional restrictions or another nationwide circuit breaker down the road, pointing out that this has happened in countries that have exited lockdowns.

"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," he added.

When asked about the threshold for going back to Phase 1 or the circuit breaker, Mr Gan said the decision does not depend on a "single number".

It would also depend on the severity of the cases, he said, pointing to how a "vast majority" of Singapore's cases over the last three to four months were "very mild" without the need for critical medical care.

While Mr Gan said Singapore's healthcare systems are prepared to ramp up capacity if cases go up again, he cautioned that this should not be taken for granted.

"We should always do our best to minimise community transmission, because from our experience we've also seen that the increase in the number of cases can be quite exponential," he added.

Mr Wong said "very few" of the linked community cases post-circuit breaker happened through social gatherings.

He also urged people to continue taking "maximum precaution" during these gatherings.

"Because if this number were to rise later on, if we see more transmission happening among social activities, it will make it very hard for us to relax the rule later (and) we may even have to tighten this particular aspect of the rule," he added.

"But if we see that continuously over the next few days, weeks, that indeed the pattern of transmission is kept low at the social setting, people are taking responsibility and taking precautions, and if the overall infection situation remains stable and under control, then indeed there may be scope for us to progressively open up some more on the social side."

Watch the full news conference and Q&A session: 

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

Source: CNA/hz(mi)

Bookmark