Changi Airport Covid-19 cluster originated in zone that received travellers from higher-risk places

The cluster at Changi Airport is currently the largest. Airport workers have been infected and the worry now is the leakage of hidden cases into the broader community. Here‘s a look at how the virus took off from Ground Zero of the airport.

SINGAPORE - Workers infected with Covid-19 at Changi Airport had mainly been working in one zone that had received travellers from higher-risk regions, including South Asia.

Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (May 14) that the airport identified this trend after studying the 20-plus initial infections at the airport cluster.

"Most (of these infections) in fact congregate around one zone," said Mr Ong.

"This is a zone with a finger pier that receives higher-risk countries' (passenger) arrivals, including South Asia."

A finger pier is an extension that juts out from the terminal, with its own gatehold lounges.

This zone includes the conveyor belt and immigration area that the passengers pass through, Mr Ong said during a press conference by the task force combating the Covid-19 outbreak.

The zone is the Changi Airport cluster's equivalent of Ward 9D at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where several people were initially found to be infected.

"From that zone, workers go (to) have their meals at the Terminal 3 Basement 2 commercial area and foodcourt, and we suspect that, from there, it transmitted to members of the public who visited the place."

On May 8, an 18-year-old Victoria Junior College student was among the community cases that the Ministry of Health confirmed. Investigations showed she had earlier visited the Kopitiam foodcourt at Changi Airport Terminal 3 Basement 2.

The airport took immediate action by closing down the entire commercial area of Terminal 3 Basement 2 the next day for deep cleaning, said Mr Ong.

"The airport has since tightened up measures," he said. "In fact, we've thought through the entire concept of operations, and operating around the concept of segregation."

This means the airport is now segregated into zones of different risk levels, with areas of higher risk stipulating stricter rules.

Workers in higher-risk zones will not only have to wear full personal protective equipment, but will also have to consume their meals within the areas instead of coming out.

In total, 28 airport workers have tested positive for Covid-19 so far, of which 19 have been fully vaccinated.

Mr Ong said that all of them are doing well, and none require oxygen support.

"So we are cautiously hopeful that the airport workers' cluster is just a worker cluster," said Mr Ong.

"Hopefully, that can be contained through quarantine and testing, just like what has happened at the seaport and Tan Tock Seng."

He noted that the authorities have taken multiple steps to contain the virus outbreak at the airport.

This includes testing of some 9,000 workers, quarantining close contacts of infected patients and also temporarily shutting down the airport to the public.

On the progress of testing operations, Mr Ong said 7,641 workers have been tested as at Thursday night. Of the 6,000 test results that are out, six workers have tested positive.

"What is noteworthy (is) 500 workers in Jewel have been tested... and so far, all (are) negative," said Mr Ong.

The Changi Airport cluster became the largest active Covid-19 cluster on Thursday, with a total of 46 cases confirmed.

Several in the cluster have tested preliminarily positive for the B1617 variant that was first found in India.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Changi Airport Group had announced on Wednesday night that they would allow only some workers and travellers to access the airport terminal buildings for two weeks from Thursday.

Jewel would be closed during this period.

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