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Virus variant from India 'concerning' as infections could spread 'quickly and widely', says Gan Kim Yong

Virus variant from India 'concerning' as infections could spread 'quickly and widely', says Gan Kim Yong

View of Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore on Apr 30, 2021. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: The large clusters and “rapid transmission” of the B16172 COVID-19 variant first detected in India are “concerning”, as it suggests that infections of this strain can spread “quickly and widely”, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11).

This is similar to situations found elsewhere, where new variants of the virus likely caused a resurgence of coronavirus cases, Mr Gan said in his ministerial statement on the whole-of-government response to COVID-19. 

"The emergence of several clusters, new variants as well as rising number of unlinked cases means the risk of community transmission has gone up.

“Therefore, we must continue to stay vigilant and tighten our safe distancing measures in the community to slow down and prevent transmission of the virus, even as we make progress in our vaccination programme,” he said, adding that Singapore also tightened its border measures to reduce the risk of importing cases.

READ: COVID-19 virus variants from India detected in Singapore: What you need to know

READ: What we know about the B1617 variant from India as COVID-19 sweeps South Asia

Three recent cases at Singapore’s airport terminals also tested preliminarily positive for the B1617 variant.

The Tan Tock Seng cluster was confirmed on Apr 28, and is Singapore’s largest active cluster with more than 40 infections.

READ: ‘Several important lessons’ from Tan Tock Seng Hospital COVID-19 cluster: Gan Kim Yong

READ: A timeline of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital COVID-19 cluster

The emergence of new COVID-19 variants have challenged existing knowledge on the virulence and transmissibility of COVID-19, said Mr Gan. He noted that Singapore had detected 10 different variants among local and imported cases to date.

While such variations are “not unexpected”, some are of “greater concern” because of increased transmissibility, severity of illness caused and ability to break through vaccines, he said.

He added that it is “not surprising” to discover variant strains in Singapore. “We cannot completely shut our borders, close down the causeways, our seaport and airports because Singapore is not self-sufficient in many things and we need to maintain our supply lines and global connections to survive. The virus will then find ways to infiltrate us.”

LESSONS LEARNT FROM CHANGI AIRPORT CLUSTER

Airports, seaports and the Causeway are "points of vulnerability" for Singapore, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday, in reply to Member of Parliament Ang Wei Neng's (PAP-West Coast) question on the lessons learnt from the Changi Airport cluster.

The first case reported as part of the Changi Airport Cluster is a cleaner working at Changi Airport Terminal 3. As of Monday, the total number of infections linked to the cluster is 10.

The Government has been implementing a "tight posture" for both seaports and airports, said Mr Ong on Tuesday.

The minister said that workers observe safe management measures, which including wearing masks and some in full personal protective equipment. They are also tested regularly, some every seven days, others every 14 days.

The Government has also vaccinated these workers, with 92 per cent of higher-risk workers, who come into contact with travellers, being fully vaccinated.

With the new cluster, the Government is now putting all close and possible contacts through tests and implementing "greater, more effective" segregation measures to ensure that higher-risk airport workers do not mix with other workers. 

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Source: CNA/cc(ac)

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