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Despite few new Covid-19 infections, vigilance needed ahead of Singapore opening up to travellers

The Independent logo The Independent 30/9/2020 Anna Maria Romero
a group of people standing around a fire © The Independent Singapore

Singapore—There is no doubt the country’s Covid-19 situation is much improved, with fewer new cases reported daily but at least one public health expert is saying that caution will be needed for some time to come.

Singapore is set to start additional eased restrictions beginning from this week.

Associate professor at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Dr Hsu Li Yang says the much-diminished number of infections show that “the Covid-19 epidemic in Singapore is truly under control, including in the migrant worker dormitories.” He was quoted by South China Morning Post (SCMP).

However, at least one expert is calling for “eternal vigilance” as the country reopens, given that travellers from overseas will begin to come to Singapore again starting from next month, although they will be limited in number and movement.

Associate professor at NUS’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health Dr Jeremy Lim is quoted in SCMP as saying, “What’s critical beyond vigilance is that Singapore preserves our capabilities in public health interventions including contact tracing, rapid testing, isolating, so that when the inevitable community outbreak occurs, we are fully prepared.”

Another expert, Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, says people would need to continue wearing masks. He adds that while the number of infections is likely to dwindle down to zero within the next month, a resurgence of infections is not impossible, as the country opens up to foreign visitors to participate in conferences and meetings.

These Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) gatherings will be limited to 250 in size and will hopefully provide a needed bolster to the tourism sector.

Guests from overseas will be required to use an app for contact tracing and will be allowed to meet within designated cohorts of 50. They will also be provided with “safe itineraries” which the Trade Ministry will monitor for compliance.

According to Dr Leong, these visitors, as well as returning citizens and permanent residents, will carry the biggest risk for an infection to begin again in Singapore. But another group to closely watch out would be the country’s workers, he added.

The heads of the multi-ministry task force assigned to address the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, Education minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong have said that zero infections among the foreign worker community may take some time yet.

Mr Wong says he expects to see a “very, very low level of ongoing transmission” in spite of frequent testing, while Mr Gan said there would be undetected asymptomatic cases until a vaccine is produced.

He adds, “There‘s no possibility of zero cases in the whole of Singapore until we have the vaccine available, so therefore I think we need to continue to be vigilant.” —/TISG

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