The number of positive cases of the deadly COVID-19 in migrant workers dormitories is expected to plunge to below 100 in three to four weeks’ time, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health on Tuesday (26 May).
Speaking to Straits Times, Prof Teo explained that the drop in cases is possible as measures to stop the spread of the virus in dorms had been “broadly effective”, bringing down the basic reproduction number of the virus, or R0, to 0.5.
An R0 of one basically means that every infected person will spread the virus to another person at every serial interval, which is the time period between successive cases of transmission.
“(An R0 of 0.5) means every five days or so, we’ll halve the number of new reports…so if the measures in the dorm were indeed able to push down the R0 to 0.5, we’d expect the results to show up very clearly in about four weeks’ time – about 28 days, or six serial intervals,” explained Prof Teo.
On 20 April, Singapore reached the highest number of COVID-19 cases recorded in a day in the country as a total of 1,426 infections were reported. Of these, 1,369 were among migrant workers living in crammed dormitories.
However, the numbers began to slowly go down as the weeks progressed. On Tuesday, only 383 new cases were confirmed, and 381 out of it were among migrant workers living in dormitories.
In fact, Tuesday’s figure is the 14th day in a row that the number of recovered COVID-19 patients were higher than those newly confirmed.
Prof Teo pointed out that this is not due to a change in the criteria for discharge, but rather because the patients who had previously confirmed infected with the virus is now slowly recovering as part of the natural progression of the disease.
Leong Hoe Nam, who is an infectious diseases expert at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said: “The high number of discharged cases comes from patients who were due to be discharged. Those diagnosed around a month ago should be getting discharged now.”
In response to lower number of new cases recorded, Dr Leong said: “Many of those who were recently diagnosed would likely have been infected around a month ago. By now, it would be the fourth week of their illness – the period of time when around half of all patients start testing negative as they stop shedding the virus. Hence, the number of confirmed cases would fall.”
Contrarily, infectious disease expert Paul Tambyah from NUS’ Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine opined that the lower number of COVID-19 cases may also be because of a reduced number of testing done recently.
In the last few days, the Ministry of Health noted that it conducted fewer tests, probably because of the recent public holiday.
Prof Tambyah, who is also Singapore Democratic Party’s chairman, added: “We (also) know that more community recovery facilities have been set up and this would allow for the safe discharge of patients out of the hospitals and community isolation facilities… Either way, the reduced numbers are probably a welcome relief for out stretched healthcare facilities.”
Separately, Prof Teo stated that the number of new cases are now beginning to reduce to the levels that were recorded in February, provided no unfortunate events emerge.
He explained: “Until we know the serial prevalence – the percentage of people here who have been exposed to the virus and may have antibodies that may confer temporary immunity – our understanding is the vast majority are still likely to be susceptible. So we still have to be very careful in minimising infections in the community.”
He added, “If you and I are susceptible and don’t play our part, we’ve a high chance of being infected.”
Netizens react to experts’ prediction
Upon reading what the experts have to say about less than 100 cases to be recorded in a month’s time, some netizens pointed out that will happen due to fewer testing being conducted in Singapore. Penning their thoughts in the Facebook page of The Straits Times, they said that new cases will definitely remain low if the number of testing done is low. It’s all boils down to “how we play the number”, one user noted.
True to that, Ministry of Health noted in its Tuesday report that the lower number of cases is partly due to fewer tests being conducted.
They added that the these experts have jumped to a conclusion to make such a prediction as fewer tests are being carried out. As such, they ask for the number of migrant workers who have actually been tested so far. They also went on to state that only 10 percent of migrant workers have tested so far, which means it could be too early to presume that the cases will reduce in a month.
Others questioned the experts words as all their previous predictions never came true. They added that the experts only appeared when something big happened, indicating that these experts voiced their opinions only to be “famous”.