Singapore—As GE2020 fever dies down, it would be good to take a look at how the country is faring on the public health side, as the world still grapples with the coronavirus crisis.
The situation has certainly improved, with daily infections now reported in the low hundreds, as opposed to over a thousand every 24 hours in April, when Singapore had the highest infection rates in Southeast Asia, although some infectious disease experts have stated publicly that the country’s case numbers have not fallen as quickly as they expected.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force assigned to tackle the coronavirus crisis along with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, said on Friday (July 17) that Singapore should be prepared for a second wave of Covid-19 cases, adding that it was preventable if everyone played their part.
The vast majority of new coronavirus cases is still being discovered at migrant worker dormitories. Mr Wong, who called the government’s Covid-19 response “a massive undertaking,” said that testing at these facilities is now in its “final stretch,” as 232,000 individuals were confirmed as recovered or virus-free on July 16, the result of officials going block by block to test the residents.
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, warned last week however, that infections could continue spreading in the dorms, since many of the residents are young, relatively healthy and asymptomatic or show only mild symptoms. He had thought that infections in the dorms would fall to lower than 100 daily by the end of June.
Leong Hoe Nam, another infectious disease expert, also warned that active asymptomatic transmissions may still be occurring within the dorms.
And while the coronavirus is still present in the country, Singapore is grappling with an outbreak of dengue fever at the same time, with 19,000 cases of dengue recorded this year alone. The National Environment Agency reported that a week ago, the highest weekly number ever, 1,736 cases, was recorded. Nineteen people have died of dengue so far. Experts say that the total number of dengue cases is expected to exceed that of 2013, when 22,000 cases were recorded, the highest in Singapore’s history.
Whether or not Singapore will have a second wave of coronavirus cases remains to be seen, and depends on the ability of officials to catch and control new cases immediately. Dr Jeremy Lim, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, is quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying, “The acid test will come soon enough.”
He added that the country is “as well prepared as any country ever can or will be” with systems in place for testing, contact-tracing, isolation. And there is very deep experience across the health system and government now, given the last four months of managing the dorms and community clusters.”
Officials have sought the participation of the public in preventing another wave of infections.
As other areas, including Hong Kong, Japan and Australia, have seen a resurgence of cases, Mr Gan said, “This is not the time to celebrate and be complacent. We are certainly not out of the woods yet. We must be prepared for a second wave too, but we must do our best to avoid it if we can.
There are useful lessons we can glean from their experience to avoid a similar scenario in Singapore.
What is important is to detect these cases early and ring-fence them to prevent further transmissions and the formation of large clusters. The second wave is preventable if everyone plays our part. I believe that if anyone can do it, Singaporeans can.” —/TISG