Touching vegetables at market could have led to Covid-19 spread: Infectious disease experts

The Bukit Merah View Market and Hawker Centre cluster was Singapore's largest for some time.
The Bukit Merah View Market and Hawker Centre cluster was Singapore's largest for some time.PHOTO: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS

SINGAPORE - People who contracted Covid-19 at Bukit Merah View Market and Hawker Centre in June typically had three things in common.

They were not vaccinated, did not wear their masks properly and tended to touch fruit and vegetables with their bare hands.

These were the findings of a National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) study on the market cluster, which had a total of 94 cases and saw all 182 market stalls closed for two weeks.

The cluster was Singapore's largest for some time, with smaller clusters subsequently emerging in neighbouring blocks. The Health Ministry subsequently conducted multiple rounds of testing which covered more than 200,000 residents.

As part of the study, researchers interviewed people affected by the market's closure, including stallholders and customers, said Adjunct Associate Professor Matthias Toh, who is director of the National Public Health and Epidemiology Unit.

They zoomed in on the market outbreak because of the large number of seniors who frequent the area, given that seniors have borne the brunt of the outbreak, added Professor Leo Yee Sin, NCID's executive director.

Naturally, people who spent less time in the market were also less likely to get infected. "That's a no-brainer," she observed. "If you spend time in the epicentre, of course the chances of you getting infected will be higher."

The study's findings suggest that stallholders might want to consider pre-packaging their produce, added Prof Toh.

"People who are patronising the stalls could carry their own hand sanitisers and sanitise their hands before touching the fruit and vegetables," he said. "After that, they can also clean their hands again. This will not only protect themselves, but protect the community as well."

In addition, those who are using non-surgical, reusable masks should wash them regularly, he said.

The same habits should apply in supermarkets, where people also tend to pick over fresh produce, added Prof Leo.

"The items that more people want to touch before they make a decision - those are the items we need to pay very specific attention to because that could be the source of transmission."