by Kok Ming Cheang
With 17 new cases on Monday, the total number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore hit a high of 243 cases as at 16 March.
Is the situation still under control as asserted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech last week?
Despite the accolades Singapore received from World Health Organisation (WHO) and others, the number of new cases continue to climb, now, even more sharply in double-digits over the last week or so. What did the Multi-Ministry Task Force not do right in containing the community spread of the virus and curbing the importation of new cases?
Today, the coronavirus has penetrated into the fabric of our society from church members who attended services together to people from corporate offices, learning organizations, foreign workers, to private functions in SAFRA Jurong (the latter created the biggest cluster of 47 linked cases). Young and old are not spared the threat — the youngest was a 6 months old boy and the oldest was a 79 years old female Singapore citizen.
With infection cases and fatalities rising by large numbers in several countries (Iran, Italy, Germany, France, to name a few), and among ASEAN countries, except for Malaysia with 428 cases, Singapore has the highest at 243 cases. In fact, we are surrounded by a ring of fire as all ASEAN neighbors have COVID-19 cases.
So far for Singapore, neither the “containment of local transmission “ nor the prevention of increase of import cases” have been overwhelmingly successful.
What’s the real value of massive deployment of manpower to do contact tracing if the close contacts are not all tested? I understand not all persons on the contact list can be tested which could be a loophole in stamping out community transmissions
There were several clusters being formed which contributed to the sharp increase in local community spread like the Grace Assembly of God church, Life Church and Missions, Wizlearn Technologies in Science Park and SAFRA Jurong.
SAFRA Jurong was the biggest cluster with 47 cases which originated from big private functions. Take a close look at the attached illustration- it was not possible to determine who in the dinner function spread to who in the cluster and those outside the cluster. The dinner functions were held on 15 Feb but there are still cases popping up now.
Take Case 196 — a 73 year old female SG citizen with no recent travel history to affected areas; she is a contact of Case 107 and 148 and is linked to the SAFRA Jurong cluster.
Case 107 is a 68 year old female SG citizen with no travel history to affected areas but had been in Jakarta. She is linked to Case 94.
Case 148 is a 67 year old female SG citizen who had been to Indonesia from 11-14 Feb. She is the contact of Case 107 and is linked to the SAFRA Jurong cluster.
It looks clean cut on paper but there is no way to prove that Case 148 and 107 were not imported cases from Indonesia.
If the health authority knew that COVID-19 infections were confirmed among some participants in SAFRA Jurong, why didn’t they test them for COVID-19? I understand they could not test everyone but clearly they had detected some infected participants and if the entire group of 200 diners were tested, the growth of SAFRA Jurong cluster could have been contained.
How many participants of the SAFRA Jurong function were actually confirmed infected much later but still going about their daily routines?
Guardian (UK) on 12 March reported:
“Many Coronavirus infections may be spread by people who have recently caught the virus and have not yet begun to show symptoms, scientists have found.”
“An analysis of infections in Singapore and Tianjin in China revealed that two-thirds and three-quarters of the people respectively appear to have caught it from others who were incubating the virus but still symptom-free.”
“The finding has dismayed infectious disease researchers as it means that isolating people once they start to feel ill will be far less effective at slowing the pandemic than had been hoped.”
“In the Singapore cluster, between 45% and 84% of the infections appeared to come from people incubating the virus. In China, the figures ranged from 65% to as much as 87%.”
Unless there is more extensive testing of people who have come into contact with confirmed cases, there is always a risk of infections from asymptomatic people. This alone, will make it very difficult for the Task Force to succeed in the “ containment strategy” to stamp out local transmissions.
On the external front, the stoppage of imported cases is becoming a great challenge for the Task Force. The recent ramp-up measures aren’t enough and a way too late. I understand the reason why they could not be done earlier.
The 17 new cases on Monday is a record high of which, 11 are imported cases. It must be hard for the Multi-ministry Task Force to balance public health with economics as PM Lee said: “We are not locking down our city like the Chinese , South Koreans or Italians have done.” (Straits Times 13 March).
New Malaysia PM Muhyiddin Yassin has just announced a nationwide lock-down of the country with limited movement between 18 to 31 March. He is obviously determined to turn the tide to stop the sharp increases of virus infections in his country.
As all countries across the world are battle-ready to fight against the exponential increases in infections, Singapore is different as the PAP government believes it can multi-task — to fight the coronavirus and carry out the Election at the same time.
Is the People’s Action Party (PAP) government being totally irresponsible and selfish towards Singaporeans by taking its eye off the ball and diverting attention and resources to fight a general election when the people are fighting for their lives against an invisible enemy?
Let’s see what the future beholds for them.
Keep safe, protect yourself with a mask in a crowded area; practise social distancing.