An additional 10 workers at Changi Airport were tested positive for COVID-19 in a special testing operation, said the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Changi Airport Group (CAG) in a joint statement on Friday (21 May).
The 10 workers, who were among 19,000 frontline workers and office workers in the Changi Airport Passenger Terminal Buildings (PTBs) and Jewel Changi Airport being tested, were found to have been infected with the B1617 variant.
Phylogenetic testing results for an initial batch of COVID-19 positive airport workers were found to be similar and of the B1617 variant, indicating that they originated from a common source.
Preliminary investigations indicate that the initial transmission could have occurred through an airport worker who was assisting a family from South Asia, who arrived in Singapore on 29 Apr and were subsequently found to be positive for COVID-19 through their on-arrival tests.
Further investigations by Ministry of Health (MOH) and CAAS are ongoing.
The special testing operation was carried out from 9 May to 20 May.
As of 20 May, 43 airport workers in total tested positive for the virus.
The 33 other airport workers who have been tested positive for COVID-19 were detected while serving their Quarantine Orders, through earlier rostered routine testing, through MOH’s voluntary testing operation for visitors to Terminal 3, or upon seeking medical treatment from a general practitioner.
Most of these cases were detected early, said CAAS and CAG.
Cases peaked around 13 May, with very few cases among airport workers subsequently. None of the cases are in serious condition, require oxygen, or are in the Intensive Care Unit.
CAAS and CAG noted that all workers at Changi Airport Terminal 1 and Jewel have tested negative for COVID-19.
Ten workers from Terminal 3 were tested positive. Thus, as a precautionary measure, all airport workers who were working around Terminal 3 Basement 2 who had tested negative for COVID-19 in their first test, have been rostered to take an additional COVID-19 test since 20 May. Results are pending, said CAAS and CAG.
Additional cleaning and disinfection of Changi Airport PTBs and Jewel have been completed.
As an added precaution, Changi Airport PTBs and Jewel will remain closed to members of the public until the end of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period on 13 Jun.
During this closure period, airport workers will be briefed and trained on the new measures and requirements, to allow the new measures and safety protocols to be implemented smoothly.
The airport will remain open for air travel, said CAAS and CAG.
“Mutant virus” from “higher risk countries” has broken through airport
At an earlier press briefing on 14 May, then-Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung acknowledged that a “mutant virus” from “higher risk countries” has broken through despite the best efforts put up by the people working at Changi Airport.
“I think they really did their best but unfortunately this mutant virus, very virulent, broke through the layers of defense,” Ong said.
He added that from the first 20 over infections, Changi Airport has detected and found that the infections are quite congregated.
“Most in fact congregate around one zone and this is the zone with a finger pier that receive higher risk countries’ arrivals including South Asia and then the conveyor belt and immigration,” he revealed. “So, that whole zone and infections were all around that area.”
“So that zone is our equivalent of ward 9D, like Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and from that zone, workers go have their lunch, go have their meals at the Terminal 3 basement 2 commercial areas and the food court,” he added.
“And we suspect from there, it transmitted to members of public that visited the place.”
Ong also said that after a student was detected to have been infected after visiting the food court at Terminal 3 basement 2, Changi Aiport took action to close down the entire B2 commercial area at T3 for deep cleaning.
“Then we started special ops with MOH to test 9000 workers in T1, T3 plus Jewel,” he said. “What is noteworthy 500 workers in Jewel has been tested and results are out and so far all negative.”
Ong, who will co-chair the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF), added, “The big worry now is the onward community transmission coming out of the commercial area in T3 B2. And that is why we are announcing this series of measures today.”