A couple of months ago, Minister for Education and Co-Chair of the Multi-Agency Taskforce for Covid-19 Lawrence Wong (Wong) said that the Government was considering whether additional measures were necessary to ensure the COVID-19 transmission remained under control amid a spike in community cases.
In that press conference on 18 January, he referenced the local cluster linked to a police para-vet while appearing to chastise those behind the recent cases who had not sought medical attention despite development flu-like symptoms.
The thing is, while Mr Wong’s concerns are understandable, it begs the question of who is really responsible for the rise in cases in Singapore.
According to the number of new cases the past few days, most of it are imported, and only a handful are local transmissions. Just one was a new case of a migrant worker living in a dormitory.
As Singapore, like many other countries around the world, starts to open up and focus on reinvigorating the economy, we should also consider the method in which those moves are made.
Specifically, Singapore went into a strict Circuit Breaker period last year during which time there were tight restrictions on the size of social gatherings, closures of public spaces, adoption of contact tracing measures and more on top of border closures.
This was done in an effort to curb the spread of the virus within the country and to prevent imported cases back when the rest of the world was also struggling to keep the pandemic under control.
As things started to look up, Singapore started to reopen its borders. Unfortunately, the number of cases are starting to rise again. This is separate from the surge in COVID-19 cases within migrant worker dormitories that have stabilised for now. But the numbers clearly indicate that most of the new cases in Singapore now are imported, not local.
So long as Singapore continues to report new cases each day, things will not go back to normal. Mask wearing is still required. So is social distancing and safety measures in public spaces.
There’s still a limit on the size of social gatherings. Mr Wong said on 24 March that from 24 April onwards, capacity limits for events like weddings would be increased, but that social gatherings would still be limited to just eight people.
When will Singapore return to normalcy?
Despite reassurances, it doesn’t appear that life in Singapore would go back to normal again anytime soon like it has in Taiwan and Australia where people are living life without masks.
Given the strict border controls of those two countries, that’s no surprise. Taiwan effectively closed its border to China early on in the pandemic last year, and implemented strict quarantine rules. By March 2020, it has closed itself off to nearly all inbound foreign visitors.
It is only now in January that Taiwan announced that it is looking into reopening its borders for limited international travellers, requiring vaccination confirmation on top of a negative COVID-19 test.
To date, Taiwan has reported just 1,082 cases in a population of almost 24 million.
As for Australia, borders closed at the outset of the pandemic, reopening only at the end of 2020. Authorities decided to shut it again two days later when Australia detected its first community infection in seven months.
Since closing its borders, Australia only allows Australian citizens and permanent residents into the country, or New Zealand residents living in Australia. Additionally, there are strict regulations on interstate travel within the country as well.
The 14-day quarantine requirement is also strictly enforced there, even for interstate travel, either at home or in government-supervised hotels. Those who breach quarantine regulations face fines or even jail time.
Given the sacrifices that people in Taiwan and Australia have made to ensure the safety of its communities, protecting it from the worst of the pandemic, they are at least rewarded with the ability to live a life that is close to normal as possible.
Yet in Singapore, people have suffered immensely, adhered to strict regulations, but are still facing a long road ahead due to the continued importation of COVID-19 cases into the country.
That’s on top of lapses such as people being allowed to cut short their SHN only to test positive for the virus later.
On 20 April, the Ministry of Health (MOH) issued a press release about an imported case of COVID-19 discovered earlier this month. The 43-year-old Indian expat on a Work Pass had entered Singapore from India on 2 April. He was did not present any symptoms of the virus and a pre-departure test taken on 21 March showed that he was negative.
However, he tested positive on arrival in the country and was immediately transferred to a hospital. two days later on 4 April, his serology test result came back positive showing that it was an old infection.
As such, the authorities deemed that the Indian expat was a recovered case based on his high Ct value which indicated a low viral load. Consequently, he was discharged from the hospital on 6 April as he was considered no longer infectious. This is well within the standard 14-day quarantine period.
Unfortunately, about 10 to 12 days later on 16 Apr and 18 Apr, the sister-in-law of the Indian expat and her husband were found to be infected with COVID-19. Given that the three live together in the same household, the Indian expat was tested again on 17 April. His test came back positive for COVID-19.
MOH said that the Ct value of his polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was lower than his earlier test, indicating a higher viral load this time. His antibody titres are also currently very high, suggesting that he was exposed to a new infection which boosted his antibody levels.
All these seems to make it nearly impossible for things to go back to normal in Singapore and for people to get back their pre-COVID lifestyle despite the sacrifices made over the past year.