Do the right thing to avoid second circuit breaker in Singapore, urge experts

It will only take one lapse or one irresponsible action for a potential super-spreading event to occur. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Experts have warned that the Covid-19 crisis in Singapore could worsen quickly amid a growing number of unlinked cases and expanding clusters, but some here are still not seeing a doctor after developing symptoms.

The Covid-19 situation here is on a knife-edge, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said when he addressed Parliament on Tuesday (May 11).

The experts agree.

Speaking during his ministerial address on the pandemic, Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, said that the nation has a chance of getting things under control by the end of the month.

But he also warned against complacency, saying that the country's community case numbers can go either way over the next few weeks, and it will only take one lapse or one irresponsible action for a potential super-spreading event to occur.

As of Thursday, there were 11 active clusters here, with 15 unlinked cases in the community over the past week.

Professor Dale Fisher, from the Department of Medicine at the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said he "couldn't agree more" with Mr Wong's statement.

The choice is between either controlling the increasing cases or clusters, or having to go into a second circuit breaker, he said.

"Lockdowns are very blunt but could be necessary if unlinked cases and new clusters continue to emerge. Now, as a community, we can act and hopefully avoid the restrictions becoming mandated by government," he said.

Dr Hannah Clapham, Assistant Professor at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, noted that this is not the first time Singaporeans have been told the situation is at a potential tipping point.

However, she added: "Unfortunately, it continues to be true each time. Because there has been a swift and effective response, we have not yet seen any of these tipping points turn into full blown community outbreaks.

"But it is exactly because the measures have been put in place that this hasn't happened, and this is what we are seeing now - the potential for lots of cases and therefore a tipping point. More measures are brought in to ensure this does not happen."

She added that the measures needed to keep things under control should decrease over time as more people here get vaccinated.

As of May 9, about 1.8 million people here had received at least one dose of the vaccine. Of this number, about 1.2 million had received their second dose as well.

Prof Fisher added that Singapore has not been in this state of the pandemic for "a long time". Pointing to the unlinked cases and number of clusters that are developing, he added: "Furthermore, Tan Tock Seng Hospital has lost a lot of its capacity, so that adds to the concerns over Singapore's hospital response."

The past week has also seen 14 Covid-19 cases who did not seek medical attention immediately despite developing symptoms of the coronavirus.

In one case, a 42-year-old man who works as an operating theatre technician at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, developed a cough on April 21, but did not seek medical treatment until May 10 - nearly three weeks later - after his cough worsened.

Dr Clapham said that such cases are especially concerning, and that people should seek medical attention when they develop symptoms.

"It is ideal if cases are detected as soon as possible, as this enables contact tracing to occur and other measures to be brought in as needed to control this transmission chain before we see many cases occurring," she explained.

Both experts urged people here to get vaccinated when they have the chance, follow safe management measures and see a doctor if they develop symptoms.

Prof Fisher added: "We all can do well to just go out less for the next few weeks... Nobody wants a circuit breaker, but we know the Government will do it if necessary."

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