Singapore does not rule out possibility of another 'circuit breaker' to tackle COVID-19 outbreak

Gurdip Singh
·5-min read

Singapore, May 4 (PTI) Singapore will not rule out the possibility of imposing a “circuit breaker” for a second time in the country following the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, the health minister said on Tuesday while hoping that the fresh restrictions announced will help avert it.

The Ministry of Health announced further tightening of COVID-19 measures, including limiting social gatherings and the number of distinct visitors to a home to five people from May 8 to May 30. This is a reduction from the eight people allowed currently.

Among other changes, the proportion of employees allowed to return to the workplace will also be reduced during the same period.

'I think it's important for us to clarify that we have not ruled out the possibility of a circuit breaker. Certainly we hope that we won't get there and we must do what we can with this set of measures we've just announced,” Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told a press conference of the multi-ministry task force, which he co-chairs.

'With the cooperation and support of all Singaporeans, I think we probably will be able to avoid having to get to a circuit breaker situation but we cannot rule that out,' he added.

The first 'circuit breaker' period was in place from April 7 to June 1 last year in Singapore when tough lockdown measures were put in place, home-based schooling was started and most workplaces were closed.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong said the situation currently 'is not quite the same' as last year when the circuit breaker was implemented.

'If we look at the indicators in terms of unlinked cases and more carefully in terms of what we are picking out from the sentinel surveillance (infection monitor), I wouldn't say that the situation is where we were ... before we entered the circuit breaker last year,' said Wong.

'We'll liken it more to the early phase when we entered into the COVID-19 outbreak and we were seeing sprinkling of community cases... Maybe more like the situation (in) February, March, rather than right before the circuit breaker, so there is a qualitative difference in the situation assessment by our public health experts,' he added.

Singapore also has “far better” capabilities when it comes to testing and contact tracing now, said the minister who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force.

Meanwhile, five COVID-19 cases at a COVID-19 cluster in the Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), here, have been found to have the Indian variant of the virus (B16172), Health Ministry, Director, Medical Services, Kenneth Mak said.

Mak said seven cases in three local clusters have the B16172 (Indian) variant.

The viruses in each cluster are “phylogenetically distinct”, which suggests that the clusters are not linked to one another, said the Ministry.

“Based on the early phylogenetic information available to us, the (TTSH) cluster is due to a viral variant, but the vaccine appears to have done relatively well against it,” said Mak.

As of Monday, 29 local cases were identified to be infected with “variants of interest, or variants of concern', said Mak.

A total of 475 imported cases are detected with overseas variants.

Separately, authorities said travellers with recent travel history to higher risk countries and regions will have to serve a 21-day 'stay-home notice' at dedicated facilities from May 8.

Those currently serving their 'stay-home notice' and have yet to complete it before this date will have to serve another seven days at their 'stay-home notice' location.

Higher risk countries and regions refer to all places except Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Mainland China, New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.

Minister Wong said the global COVID-19 situation has “worsened”, with new variants and new cases spreading from South Asia to Southeast Asia.

“We are adopting this more stringent border measure up until the end of May, beyond at that time we will do a further review depending on the global situation and the local situation, and we will continue to update and fine-tune our border measures,” he said.

Singapore cannot rely 'solely' on border measures to control the spread of COVID-19, said Wong, who is also education minister.

'Unlike some large or resource-rich countries that can more or less shut their borders for a long time, Singapore cannot afford to do so, certainly not for a prolonged duration of time,' he said, adding that Singapore will continue its 'risk-based approach' to managing borders, by controlling inflow of arrivals, requiring incoming travellers to serve 'stay-home notices' and vaccinating officers working at borders and checkpoints.

Wong added that 'leaks' into the community could happen, even with these tightened measures.

'The point is, we continue to keep our border measures as tight as possible, but we cannot rely solely on border controls. We have to make use of other tools at our disposal: Testing, tracing, safe management measures and now vaccination. If we do all of this well, then we can control the spread of the infection in our community,' he said.

All hospitals in Singapore have been asked to defer non-urgent surgeries and admissions to conserve resources in the healthcare sector amid a rise in cases in the community and at TTSH.

On Tuesday, Singapore reported 17 new coronavirus cases, five of which were from the community. Twelve of these cases were imported and placed on stay-home notice upon arrival. So far, Singapore has reported a total of 61,252 COVID-19 cases and 31 fatalities from the disease. PTI GS IND IND