Increase in number of new COVID-19 community cases in Phase 2 ‘not unexpected’: Gan Kim Yong
SINGAPORE: The increase in the average number of new COVID-19 cases in the community per day is “not unexpected”, with Singapore in Phase 2 of its reopening, said Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong on Thursday (Jul 2).
The number of new cases in the community has increased from an average of four cases per day in the week before to an average of eight cases a day in the past week, said Mr Gan, speaking at a multi-ministry task force press conference.
“This is not unexpected as more activities resume and the number of interactions increases. A similar trend can be observed in many other countries that have exited from lockdowns and restrictions,” he added.
Among the community cases in the past two weeks, the majority were picked up from active surveillance and screening, said Mr Gan.
“We want to detect cases early so that we can ringfence them and prevent large clusters from forming,” he added.
READ: Singapore reports 188 new COVID-19 infections, including 10 cases in the community
58 HOUSEHOLDS FROM TAMPINES BLOCK IDENTIFIED FOR TESTING
On Jun 23, MOH detected a COVID-19 case who worked at the Leo dormitory, as a result of the ministry's "proactive screening" of individuals who work in dormitories.
Another six cases were detected within the same family cluster at Block 111 Tampines Street 11, Mr Gan said.
On Jun 27, another person who lived in the same block, but had no interaction with the family cluster, tested positive for COVID-19. Another member of this household had also tested positive.
“Our contact tracers decided to investigate further and flag it out for closer monitoring,” Mr Gan said.
As an additional precautionary measure, 58 households living in the same section of the block that are served by a common lift lobby and stairwell were "proactively identified".
“Given the possibility that they may be inadvertent contacts between the households, we contacted them to check if they are well,” he said. “Two of them were unwell and were tested, and the results were negative.”
Those in the identified units were also placed on “active phone surveillance”, Mr Gan said. Affected common areas in the block were disinfected, and regular cleaning stepped up.
Mr Gan stressed that these households were “not really close contacts of the confirmed cases”, and were assessed to have “lower risk of being infected”.
MOH wants to be “a bit more careful”, the health minister said, because asymptomatic transmission could occur. COVID-19 testing was offered to all of the households.
So far, MOH has contacted 160 individuals among the 58 households, including visitors, he said.
Besides the two who were feeling unwell, another 58 individuals were swabbed on Wednesday, and all tested negative, while 29 more are expected to be tested over the next two days, Mr Gan added.
READ: 70% to 80% of migrant workers in dormitories expected to be COVID-19 free by end-July: Lawrence Wong
In response to a question, Mr Gan said that the testing was not mandatory for the 58 households, as they are “not in a high risk group”.
Any further measures will depend on the “nature” of the cases that are detected, and this could include mandatory testing, or even extending the testing to the rest of the block, he added.
“I thank the affected residents for their cooperation and patience, especially those who have come forward for testing,” he said. “Should there be further infected cases, we may have to put in further precautionary measures.”
"AGGRESSIVE" CONTACT TRACING
Most of the cases detected in the community are mild or have no symptoms, said Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.
Test results also suggest that many of the infections occurred “quite some time ago”, he added.
Noting that MOH has extended its definition of suspect cases for the purposes of testing, Assoc Prof Mak said the ministry is involved in active case finding through routine testing of groups such as people working in essential services and those who have frequent contact with vulnerable people.
READ: COVID-19: From Jul 1, patients aged 13 and above with acute respiratory infection to undergo testing once they visit a doctor
With Singapore in Phase 2, the risk of transmission increases if a person who turns out to have COVID-19 does not see a doctor immediately and goes out to work or to have a meal, said Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong who co-chairs the task force.
“And that’s why, as we have highlighted, we now move in a lot more aggressively, a lot faster, to identify all the possible close contacts. And we try and put a large ringfence around that confirmed case,” he added.
“When we go in, we know that there is a case, we immediately go in to identify a larger group that potentially might be close contacts.”
Noting that the ministry is “casting a wider net” around each confirmed COVID-19 case, Mr Wong said the public should expect that more people may be notified when the cases are confirmed.
“While we have this enhanced testing and tracing capability, I think we should not take it for granted that this system is foolproof and that we can catch every single case.
“We should not push the system to its limits, we should not be taking unnecessary risk,” said Mr Wong, urging individuals to remain vigilant and uphold social distancing measures.
Adding that it is “fortunate” that no additional cases have been confirmed in the Tampines block beyond the two households, Mr Wong said: “It could have very well been a very different situation.
“If we do a sweep and we find many more households infected, then it might even have necessitated a bigger shutdown of a wider area around those few blocks.”
Assoc Prof Mak noted that MOH has not yet established that the two households in the Tampines block are linked clusters.
“We are still treating them as two separate clusters and continuing with our investigation,” he said.
Mr Gan urged Singaporeans to remain vigilant “because the war is not yet over”, as the country is in the early stages of Phase 2 and there is still a risk of community spread.
“So let us remain vigilant. Don’t let our guards down, be careful and practice safe distancing and obey the spirit of the rules ... This will help us to keep ourselves safe and to keep our loved ones safe as well.”
Thanking Singaporeans for “bearing with” the measures, he added: “I know the progress sometimes may seem to be quite slow. We want to move very carefully, very cautiously, and therefore very gradually.
“But this is for the safety of all of us in Singapore, our loved ones, ourselves and our friends.”
Watch the full news conference and Q&A session: