On Sunday (17 May), the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced 682 new COVID-19 cases, five of which were community transmissions involving four Singapore/permanent residents and one work pass holder.
One of the Singaporeans infected was identified as case 27603. The 24-year old man, who works at the CDPL Tuas Dormitory, reported an onset of symptoms on 10 May, said MOH. However, he continued going to work at the dormitory before his test came back positive on 16 May. In their update, MOH did not specify the man’s exact duties at the dormitories.
This is the second known case of a Singaporean linked to this dormitory cluster. Another was a 48-year old man who was confirmed to be infected on 12 May. He was thereafter deployed for work at the dormitory in 6 Tuas South Street 15. Tests only confirmed that the man, identified as case 24831, had the virus on 12 May.
Now, we note that the MOH has been categorising community transmissions and dormitory transmissions separately. In a press conference on 9 April, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said, “When you look at the situation in Singapore, I think it’s important to realise and recognise that we are dealing with two separate infections — one happening in the foreign worker dormitories, where the numbers are rising sharply, and there is another, the general population, where the numbers are more stable for now.”
Even so, what is worrying is that case 27603 illustrates how it is not possible to avoid community transmission relating to dormitories. This man was likely infected while working at the dorm, and continued heading out to work even though he was presenting symptoms.
MOH did not specify where else this man had been between the onset of symptoms and being confirmed positive. Did he interact with anyone else outside of the dorms? The same questions are raised for case 24831.
This also indicates the possibility of a second wave of infections in Singapore as the country eases circuit breaker measures and starts going back to ‘normal’ even as the 25 migrant worker dormitories are still isolated.
Because while infected workers are being kept isolated within dormitories, there are uninfected people who are still mingling with them and moving in and out of these isolation areas, from healthcare workers to cleaners, security personnel, and operators.
On 6 May, Straits Times reported that there were about 66 COVID-19 cases among healthcare workers in Singapore as of 26 April. However, at the time, Mr Gan said that the evidence suggests that they were not infected while at work, though 46 of them do work directly with patients.
Could this be how the second wave starts as Singapore ceases its circuit breaker measures on 1 June?