Singapore—While there has been an increase of imported Covid-19 cases coming into the country recently, there are strong measures in place to prevent the spread of local infections, experts have told CNA.
Therefore, for them, the increasing number of imported cases is not a matter of grave concern.
CNA quoted the vice dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health,
Associate Professor Alex Cook, as saying, “In that regard, I don’t find the rise in the number of imported cases to be extremely concerning. We have quite strong quarantine measures in place, which blocks off most of the risk of spread to the resident population.”
In its daily updates the Ministry of Health (MOH) has noted that there have been no new cases of locally transmitted Covid-19 infections from January 23 through January 27. Previous to this, the numbers of local transmissions were consistently in the single digits, if any.
However, there have been more imported cases of Covid-19 reported, including 48 such cases on Sunday (Jan 24), the highest number of imported cases the country has ever seen.
The last time Singapore had this many imported cases was on March 23 of last year. On the same day, short-term visitors and transit passengers were disallowed from entering the country, and the Circuit Breaker was imposed a fortnight later.
There were 44, 14 and 25 imported cases reported on Jan 25, 26 and 27 respectively.
And while the infected persons are in isolation serving Stay-Home Notices (SHN) since they arrived in Singapore, there has been some concern of community spread.
Some Singaporeans have felt that the easing of travel restrictions and the presence of more travellers are the reason why there have been more imported cases of late.
This concern was addressed on Monday (Jan 25) by Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force assigned to combat the pandemic.
Mr Wong said that the number of travellers to Singapore has not increased, and added that the rise in imported cases is because of the elevated infection rate in many parts of the world.
“Why have the numbers gone up? It’s simply because the prevalence rate, the incidence rate, of the disease is much higher now. The virus is raging in countries everywhere.”
The Minister pointed out that the bulk of travellers to Singapore are foreign domestic helpers and construction workers. Neither category has increased in the country “in recent times,” he said.
Those who come from a majority of countries and territories go through a stringent process. They are required to spend 14 days at a dedicated facility, with those arriving from the United Kingdom and South Africa requited to serve an extended isolation period of 21 days due to the more transmissible Covid-19 variants in those countries.
Travellers also need to take two swab tests, not just one. One is administered immediately upon arrival and another as they end their SHN.
As for cargo drivers from Malaysia, they are subjected to rapid antigen testing.
Additionally, people are not allowed to come to the country unless they have valid reasons —only those who are entering because of work, studies, citizenship, residency or family ties are allowed to travel to Singapore.
”The measures we have in place to prevent transmission in the community should suffice to mop up infections that break through the cordon,” Assoc Prof Cook told CNA.
However, he also said that the new Covid strains from the UK and South Africa bear watching, even as the number of those infected with the new strain in Singapore is still small.
“As this virus is more transmissible, there are more opportunities for secondary cases, and in turn a greater potential for it to become established in the community and jeopardise the success of our safe management measures,” he added.
The new strains were also addressed by Associate Professor Vernon Lee on Monday, the Director of Communicable Diseases at the MOH.
”The approach to dealing with all of these strains is similar: We detect cases, as soon as possible. We ringfence them through contact tracing, and of course, testing, quarantine … If we contain them, it doesn’t spread, then that’s a dead end, and it doesn’t matter what strain it is.”
Both he and Assoc Prof Cook underlined the importance of the public continuing to observe social distancing rules.
Prof Dale Fisher of the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore noted that for the upcoming global events such as the World Economic Forum in May, Singapore is ready with safety measures to prevent superspreader events.
“This will mean keeping groups small, minimising mingling between groups, ensuring safe distancing and mask-wearing. All our tools will have a role, including vaccination and testing,” Dr Fisher told CNA.
As for Assoc Prof Cook, he expressed confidence that the forum will be successful.
“I am confident that the events will be well organised to reduce this risk. After all, Singapore will be keen to demonstrate to the world that we can handle such large events safely.”
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