The latest variant of COVID-19 originating from India has been detected in Singapore, which is also believed to spark the country’s largest active cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
The Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said on Tuesday (4 May) that seven cases in three local clusters were found to have B.1.617.2, a sub-lineage of a variant from India.
Of these cases, five are part of the TTSH cluster, which has now become a cluster with 40 TTSH staff, patients and their relatives.
The sixth case with this particular variant is an Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officer stationed at Changi Airport Terminal 1 and the seventh is a cleaner at a community care facility at Tuas South.
“The new variant strains have higher attack rates. They are more infectious and they are causing larger clusters than before,” said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the ministerial task force dealing with the pandemic.
He added, “We have tried our best to ringfence the cases through contact tracing, but we must assume that there are still hidden cases out there in the community.”
Looking at the recent surge of cases in India as the country experiences its second wave of COVID-19, many countries around the globe have banned flights from India, including Singapore.
Prof Mak said at the press conference that the increased number of cases with worrying variants detected around the world have also been identified among the 60 new community cases in Singapore in the past week.
Besides the seven B.1.617.2 cases, there were also three local cases with the B.1.617.1 variant, another sublineage of the double mutant variant first identified in India.
Apart from variants from India, MOH also detected eight local cases with the B.1.351 variant that originated in South Africa, seven local cases with the B.1.1.7 variant that originated in the United Kingdom, three local cases with the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil and one local case with the B.1.525 variant that also originated in the UK.
If that’s not all, Prof Mak also noted that there were four re-infection cases recorded with the B.1.351 variant.
As for the TTSH cluster, one possibility that could have caused the spread is that there may be issue with the airflow and ventilation in the ward, said Prof Mak. Other hypotheses are also being examined.
He added that they have also started studying travellers coming into Singapore who have recovered from the highly contagious coronavirus.
“We’ve not discounted the possibility that some of these recovered travellers might in fact have reinfections and therefore, bring that in and pose a threat to us,” he noted.
The TTSH cluster is seen as a worrying cluster, given that more cases have been detected among patients who remain in the hospital, the hospital staff as well as those who are currently under quarantine.
Online users chide Govt for its decision to open borders with high-risk countries
Over on social media, netizens voiced their anger towards the Government for its poor control of the country’s border. Under the comment section of The Straits Times’ Facebook post, online users blamed the Government for allowing travellers from countries with a high number of COVID-19 cases to enter Singapore, resulting in the spike of infections here.
They went on to note that the emergence of new variants in Singapore was bound to happen sooner or later as the Government decided to not close the borders soon enough, even when the public kept voicing concerns regarding this.
They also pointed out that the Singapore Government is “too confident” in its plans to control the spread of the virus. For instance, online users rebuke the authorities’ initial decision to shorten the stay-home notice for overseas travellers to just 14 days.
One user even wrote: “They (Government) think they’re taking a step forward but it’s actually two steps back”.
One user, in particular, slammed Singapore’s Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung for opening the borders for travellers from high-risk countries like India.
“Ong Ye Kung. Better do a discreet and comprehensive explanation to the people,” the user wrote.
Some expressed that the Government has failed to prioritise the well-being of its citizens and focused more on the country’s economy instead.
Others expressed that the public has done its part in containing the spread of the virus in Singapore by following the SOPs but the Government didn’t do its part to curb this issue.
“For months we have followed every precautionary measure and they simply put our life at risk. Then they force us again to take extra measure due to their mistake. Well done!” one user noted.
However, a number of netizens said that the public has to now take matters into their own hands and try to stay indoors as much as possible.
They also advised everyone to wear masks, sanitise their hands, avoid public spaces and social gatherings, and maintain social distancing to stop the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus.