SINGAPORE: The new and growing COVID-19 cluster that has emerged from KTV lounges here is a "major setback" in Singapore's journey to recovery, said Minister of Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong.
As of Friday (Jul 16), the cluster has a total of 120 cases, up from 88 the day before.
Speaking at a COVID-19 multi ministry task force press conference on Friday, Mr Gan said some of the cases had tested positive when authorities identified them.
"Which means that they may have already infected others before they were isolated therefore we expect the number of cases to rise in the coming days," he said.
"Furthermore, some of the close contacts may be within the incubation period and tested negative initially, they may turn positive in time to come, adding to the case count."
The co-chair of the task force added that the authorities will carry out contact tracing, community testing, as well as ring-fencing for this cluster.
READ: All nightlife businesses that pivoted to F&B to be suspended for 2 weeks as KTV COVID-19 cluster grows
The first reported COVID-19 case in the KTV cluster - Case 64693 - is a Vietnamese short-term visit pass holder.
The woman went to a Swab and Send Home (SASH) clinic on Jul 11, after developing a fever and acute respiratory infection symptoms the day before.
During the press conference on Friday, the Ministry of Health's director of medical services Kenneth Mak clarified that she was the first case to be detected in the cluster and not “necessarily the first case to have been infected and then to have contributed towards the entire cluster arising”.
"She has been in Singapore for a while and it is extremely likely that the seeding of the cluster arose as a result of an initial community spread."
The authorities are still tracing the source and mode of transmission for this cluster, he said.
INCREASE IN CASES DUE TO MORE TESTING
The increase in the number of COVID-19 cases over the last few days was due to testing that was performed in several settings, said Associate Professor Mak.
Of the first 88 cases, 37 were detected as they had gone to SASH clinics for their COVID-19 tests. These cases were symptomatic.
A total of 30 cases were detected through community testing that were specially conducted for those who had visited the affected clubs and KTV outlets, and had close contact with the hostesses.
The remaining 21 cases were detected while they were in quarantine.
Epidemiological investigations have identified that most of the cases in the KTV cluster had visited multiple KTV clubs and outlets, said Assoc Prof Mak.
They had either made multiple visits to several KTV outlets on the same day, or on a few days during the infectious period.
“Some of the individuals who visited multiple KTV outlets, particularly on the same day, were visitor pass holders, and we cannot exclude the possibility that many of them … were social hostesses,” he said.
These hostesses come from a variety of nationalities, including Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and the Philippines, said Assoc Prof Mak, adding that others had worked as staff members in the establishments in a variety of roles.
The second group of cases linked to the cluster arose mainly in Singapore residents who were patrons and frequented the KTV outlets on a “very regular” basis, he said.
“It's likely that there's been considerable mask-off, close contact interactions, which have taken place within these premises, which has allowed infections (to) spread,” he added.
A third group of cases detected were among household members, which suggests that some household transmission has already taken place.
Giving an update on patients linked to the cluster, Assoc Prof Mak said that, of the first 88 cases, 20 cases were asymptomatic.
The remaining 68 cases had mild symptoms, which include fever, cough and runny nose. None of them require oxygen supplementation, or are in the intensive care unit (ICU), he said.
He added the majority of the cases were young, with the age of Singaporean patients ranging from 19 to 60 years old. They were frequent patrons of the KTV outlets, said Assoc Prof Mak.
Details of the new 32 cases reported on Friday afternoon will be provided in a night daily update, he said.
"I understand many Singaporeans will be disappointed, and so are we," Mr Gan said in the press conference.
"We must respond to this emerging cluster quickly, especially to protect those who have not yet been vaccinated completely."
Mr Gan said that the country will need to "double down" on its efforts to vaccinate seniors to protect them against severe outcomes and death, should they be infected.
While Singapore's vaccination programme has made steady progress, he said the coverage remained "inadequate", particularly among seniors aged 70 and above.
Currently, about seven in 10 seniors above the age of 70 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
He encouraged those who have not been vaccinated to come forward and urged family members to reach out to their elderly parents and grandparents and bring them for vaccination, if they have not already done so.
"This and previous clusters have shown many household contacts have been infected without leaving their homes or participating in high-risk activities, vaccination is therefore the only way to keep our loved ones safe," he said.
"The higher our vaccination rates are, especially for the elderly, the more we will be able to reopen."
READ: Group sizes for indoor high-intensity mask-off activities reduced amid tighter COVID-19 measures
ICU OCCUPANCY RATE TO DETERMINE NEED TO TIGHTEN RESTRICTIONS
Hospital capacity, particularly in the intensive care unit, will be a “key consideration" when deciding the country’s safe management measure posture, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung during the press conference.
“What we really need to watch and what will decide our posture will be our ICU capacity,” he said.
Currently only one person - an elderly patient - is in ICU, said the minister, adding that Singapore has an ICU capacity of about 1,000 beds for COVID-19 cases.
“This is what we have to watch closely, at any point in time, if we see that the capacity is under pressure, we will need to tighten up, hammer the transmission, go back to Phase 2 Heightened Alert for example,” he said.
This is to preserve capacity and the proper functioning of the country’s hospitals, he said, adding that in other countries, COVID-19 cases and ICU occupancy double every week.
“So if (in) the next few days, if more people fall sick, and ICU says 25 people, in one week, it’ll be 50, one more week, 100 (people), one more week, 200 (people), one more week about 500 (people), fifth week about 1,000 people and the system collapse,” he said.
“Five weeks is what it takes, we cannot wait five weeks, by the third week, if we see the number goes up, action has to be taken quickly and rewind (us) back to at least Phase 2 Heightened Alert,” he said.