Community transmission occurred as COVID-19 virus breached safety measures; no country can seal itself off totally: MOH
SINGAPORE: Community transmission of COVID-19 occurred because the virus breached safety measures, including at Changi Airport, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Saturday (May 15).
Every arrival into Singapore is subject to “stringent” stay-home notice and tests, said the ministry.
“The infiltrating virus can be from Singapore citizens, permanent residents, work pass holders or a short-term visitor. This is a challenge faced by all countries because no one can entirely close their borders.”
In response to media queries on the number of imported cases who were short-term visitors, MOH said that the B1617 variant prevalent in South Asia is “not just a Singapore problem”.
“The World Health Organization has deemed it a variant of global concern. According to the Gisaid Institute, Europe has sequenced almost 2,000 B1617 infections, US 486, Australia 85, Japan 29 and China 17,” said the ministry.
MOH said this is a major reason why transmission is rising throughout Asia - in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan.
Even "hitherto safe regions" - such as Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam - are experiencing outbreaks of community cases, it added.
“These cases all originated from imports because all borders are porous. All it takes is one case to cause an outbreak, and no country can seal itself off totally. At the minimum, citizens and residents must be allowed to return home,” said MOH.
For imported cases in Singapore, MOH said the country reported 409 cases over 28 days from Apr 16 to May 13.
The health ministry said 41.6 per cent of them were Singapore citizens or permanent residents while 50.6 per cent were work pass holders, student pass holders or dependents. The remaining 7.8 per cent were short-term visitors.
From South Asia specifically, Singapore logged 271 imported cases over the past 28 days. Singapore citizens and permanent residents accounted for 50.2 per cent of those cases, while 46.5 per cent were work pass holders, student pass holders or dependents and 3.3 per cent were short-term visitors.
Short-term visitors are allowed to enter only if they have family ties in Singapore, or on specific compassionate grounds such as to attend a funeral, or seek medical treatment, said MOH.
READ: First 20 Changi Airport COVID-19 cases from zone that receives arrivals from higher-risk countries, says Ong Ye Kung
In a separate response to media queries, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it has been adopting a “multi-layered approach” based on the risk profiles of passengers since March last year.
For example, since March 2020, CAAS said passengers arriving from flights from very high-risk countries or regions are processed separately from all other arriving passengers to minimise mixing of passengers.
“More recently, since early May 2021, we have further segregated passengers arriving from low-risk countries or regions from all other arriving passengers.
“Transit or transfer passengers are also guided to a Transfer Holding Area within Changi Airport separated from other passengers since transit and transfer resumed in June 2020,” said CAAS.
The protocols and processes in place are continuously reviewed, it added.