Singapore is gradually relaxing circuit breaker restrictions from Tuesday (June 2). “We are easing cautiously,” according to National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the ministerial task force dealing with the Covid-19 crisis with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
“We have been able to bring down the number of new community cases significantly. But we have not eradicated the virus,” Mr Wong added in a Facebook post on May 25. He mentioned that when 16,000 pre-school teachers were tested, 8 cases were detected. “There are bound to be other asymptomatic cases in the community. That’s why we have to move cautiously,” he added.
Mr Gan had said on May 15: “As some of the circuit breaker measures are rolled back and relaxed, we are likely to see the number of community cases going up.”
He added: “We hope to prevent a large cluster or a sharp spike in the number of cases, which will then require us to perhaps reintroduce some of the circuit breaker measures.”
Singapore now has 34,884 confirmed cases. A total of 20,727 individuals have recovered and 23 have died.
It has the highest per capita infection rate in Asia but one of the world’s lowest case fatality rates. It also has one of the highest testing rates in the world, with about 49,000 tests per million people.
It took three months from January until the end of March for the rate of infections to reach 10,000 cases, only to double a few weeks later, partly due to increased testing rates. The Government announced it plans to increase its daily testing numbers to 40,000.
The vast majority of the infections have been concentrated since the beginning of April in foreign worker dormitories, and community cases have been in the low single digits for some weeks now.
Only 5 per cent of the country’s construction workers have been working throughout the circuit breaker period, around 20,000 in all. The same number will start working again from June 2 but with safety measures in place to avoid potential infections spreading.
However, Asia Times, which has three main newsrooms and social media hubs in Bangkok, Hong Kong and New Delhi, reports an activist sounding a note of caution. The vice-president of Transient Workers Count Too, Mr Alex Au, said: “The plans being laid out have a scientific rigour to them, though it assumes that testing can always give clear-cut answers, and that asymptomatic transmission post-testing will definitely not occur.
“Both, in my view, are highly uncertain assumptions, which means that despite these minutely careful measures, we can still expect leakage. This also means that draconian measures (at dormitories) will likely be in place for a long time more, regardless of the mental health and financial worries of migrant workers.”
In having infection clusters among foreign workers, Singapore is by no means alone.
Infectious disease specialist Benjamin Rolfe is quoted as saying: “The dormitory situation has been a challenge not just for Singapore, but for all countries making heavy use of guest workers. Just as we have seen in cruise ships, environments where people live in extremely close quarters will always be hot spots. The situation is improving, but there is no silver bullet.”
Dr Rolfe also sounded a note of caution.
“Whilst community cases do remain low, this virus has the deadly combination of pre-symptomatic transmission and asymptomatic cases. We still don’t know enough about transmission from children or from asymptomatic cases. In that context, we cannot assume low numbers are sufficient to ease the lockdown,” he said. —/TISG