A possible “uncontrollable rise” of COVID-19 cases from the Jurong Fishery Port cluster is behind the Government’s decision to revert to a tightening of measures under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday (22 July), Mr Ong said that while he is “upset with the irresponsible behaviour” of those involved in the origins of the KTV cluster, the number of cases from this cluster “has come down over the past few days”.
The Jurong Fishery Port, which has overtaken the KTV cluster as the current largest active cluster in Singapore, is a greater cause for concern, said Mr Ong.
“Unfortunately, while our fishmongers and stall assistants were going about earning an honest living, they got infected at the Port. As they went on to work at various markets around the island, many more cases in the community were seeded,” he said.
Eight new cases were linked to the KTV cluster as of Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 215, according to the Ministry of health.
The Jurong Fishery Port recorded 130 new cases yesterday, bringing the total to 454.
Markets tend to be frequented by seniors, many of whom remain unvaccinated, said Mr Ong.
“This is most worrying, and we are at risk of an uncontrollable rise in cases, which could potentially result in many severe illnesses or even deaths. So we need to preemptively tighten up social activities,” he said.
Addressing the suspension of dine-in arrangements in restaurants, given that there have been no cases detected in those settings, Mr Ong said: “Unfortunately it does not work like that.”
“If 5 friends meet for dinner, each has 5 people at home, who in turn meet their friends in groups of 5, we have a network of 5x5x5=125 connections for the virus to work itself through. This will turbo charge the Jurong Fishery Port cluster further,” he said.
Noting that over half of Singapore’s population has received two doses, Mr Ong said that the country is “so close to being in a much stronger and confident position”.
“It is a good rate but needs to go higher. This percentage will be going up by 1 percentage point every day. In 2 weeks, we will be at 64% or more. That will put us in a much stronger and resilient position when we review the Phase 2 (HA) rules,” he said.
“Given the gravity of the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, we felt it is not the time to risk it all now,” Mr Ong stressed.
Netizens commenting on The Straits Times’ and Mothership.sg’s Facebook posts on the matter, however, criticised Mr Ong for appearing to shift the focus away from the KTV cluster to the Jurong Fishery Port one.
“Making Jurong Fishery Port the scapegoat? So that you won’t b blamed for issuing short term passes unnecessarily and for allowing KTVs to operate as F&B???” said one commenter.
“It all started when the authorities are stupid enough to grant ktv f&b license. We are more upset by your inability to handle this pandemic,” said another.
Another commenter said that Mr Ong’s statement appears to “protect the KTV owners and also to absolve themselves from any fault or blame” regarding the pivoting of certain nightlife businesses to F&B ones.
Nightlife venues that were not included in a pilot programme were allowed to temporarily “pivot” their business to the food and beverage category since October 2020.
The pilot programme was actually delayed in January 2021 until further notice, amid a rise in community cases.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the delay was to “prevent the risk of further community transmission and formation of clusters in high-risk settings such as nightclubs and karaoke outlets, which entail people coming into close contact for prolonged periods of time and in enclosed spaces”.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the police and the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said that overnment agencies have conducted daily enforcement checks on F&B outlets as well as pivoted nightlife establishments since October last year, with about 400 outlets inspected in each operation.
“Many of these pivoted establishments have fully complied with the requirements. Others, disappointingly, have not been responsible,” they stated.
The authorities added that joint enforcement operations involving various government agencies and the police have also been conducted over 20 weekends and all festive periods since October last year.
“To date, agencies have imposed around 100 closure orders on F&B outlets, including around 40 pivoted establishments, with around 10 repeat offenders.
“The operators also face further enforcement action including fines and prosecution in court,” they noted.
One commenter questioned why KTVs were allowed to pivot when the grants should have “been better spent on aiding struggling food. places such as hawker centre stalls and restaurants”.
Several commenters also pointed out how Mr Ong had earlier stated that the KTV and port clusters are linked.
“Our scientists are conducting the phylogenetic studies. Both clusters are linked,” said Mr Ong in a Facebook post.
“Genetically, they differ from the Delta variant that infected Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Changi Airport, but are closer to what we have detected in imported cases from Indonesia,” he added.
One commenter was critical of the Government’s decision to proceed with this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) despite the emergence of the KTV, port and other new clusters.
An online petition has emerged on Change.org urging the Government to cancel the NDP this year.
It “does not make any sense” for the Government to conduct a public event as the number of COVID-19 cases are rising, the petition statement read.
Even if NDP is not considered a social gathering, it is still a “mass-scale gathering”, adding that thousands of people will be present at the event when they should not be – regardless of whether they are vaccinated, the statement added.
“Event performers/marchers do not adhere to social distancing even when fully vaccinated,” according to the petition.
The petition also questioned the need for NDP to be given the green light when the Government has continuously urged the public to stay at home.
Calling for the event to be cancelled before it becomes “the next big cluster”, the petition read: “This public event contradicts everything the government has told their people to practice.”
The petition has garnered 30,520 signatures out of its target 35,000 at the time of writing.