Following the introduction of the circuit breaker measures on 3 April, the Multi-Ministry Task Force formed to helm the government’s efforts in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic was asked in a briefing why the country has not yet moved from DORSCON Orange to DORSCON Red.
The reporter who asked the question opined that the guidelines for that category include closures of schools and workplaces which were announced as part of this month-long circuit breaker period.
The question was post to the ministers during that briefing on 3 April for their current definition of DORSCON Red in this situation and how far or near Singapore might be to imposing a lockdown.
The country’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) is a framework used to guide the way the country deals with and manages outbreaks. On 7 February, the level was raised to Orange, one level below Red which is the highest most urgent code used in cases of pandemics that are out of control.
In response to the question during the briefing earlier this month, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had said that DORSCON Red would mean that there are “many uncontrollable outbreaks” and “widespread community transmission” which makes contact tracing, containment, and quarantine “difficult to do”.
He continued, “We are not in DORSCON red because we have not given up on contact tracing, we have not given up on containment, on quarantine.”
In fact, Mr Gan said, the government is doing the opposite by stepping up capacity in order to do more contact tracing in order to ’ring-fence’ the transmission to contain it and reduce the number of new and unlinked cases.
Mr Gan continued, “So I think we are not yet in DORSCON Red, we are quite a distance from DORSCON Red. We have to focus on the immediate task of increasing a safe distances among our population and stepping up our containment efforts through contact tracing and through containment.”
Chiming in, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) elaborated that DORSCON is a risk assessment of the local situation, looking at the degree of community spread and the country’s ability to control the spread.
Prof Mak noted that while there is an increase in community spread at the time as opposed to the previous month, he still believes that the situation can be potentially controlled.
He said, “If we were to consider DORSCON red, it will be in a situation where because of our inability or failure to ring-fence, isolate, contain and prevent further community spread, then the thrust of our strategy changes towards some level of mitigation in order to make sure that our health system and resources are sustainable in the long haul.”
“We are clearly not at that stage yet,” he added.
Prof Mak went on to describe the parameters that are considered to determine the risk of community spread. These include the number of cases, whether those cases are linked to existing clusters or unlinked, the ability to prevent further spread within a cluster, and ensuring no further transmissions occur after attempting to ring-fence and isolate the cluster.
Now, that was about three weeks ago on. However, it seems that the MOH has stopped announcing the details of new infected cases as of yesterday, after recording a daily high of 1,426 new cases on Monday (20 April).
The annex shown in MOH’s daily report only includes a summary of the cases with no details of those infected as it was shown in previous updates.
The situation reports published by MOH similarly do not show how many cases in migrant worker dormitories are unlinked.
Is this an indication that the government has indeed given up on contact tracing?