Workplace Covid-19 infections up after phase two reopening

With expanded testing to include patients aged 13 years and older who have acute respiratory infections, the number of Covid-19 cases will go up, said Mr Lawrence Wong
With expanded testing to include patients aged 13 years and older who have acute respiratory infections, the number of Covid-19 cases will go up, said Mr Lawrence WongST PHOTO: GIN TAY

More people are getting infected with the coronavirus at workplaces since the phase two reopening on June 19.

Workplace infections have risen from 22 per cent before phase two to 36 per cent now.

Prior to that, 71 per cent of linked community cases had been infected at home. This has dropped to 41 per cent between June 19 and July 5.

At a multi-ministry task force press conference yesterday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said of workplace transmissions: "That's one area where all of us can do our part to reduce transmission further."

He urged people who can work from home to continue to do so and for employers to allow this "to further reduce transmission".

He said: "Anecdotally, I hear some people saying that their bosses are now asking them to go back to work. Well, that should not be the case.

"Employers should still have their staff work from home. They should only come back to the office to work if there's a clear and demonstrable need to do so because employees need to use some specialised equipment or machinery at work…"

It is a precaution all employers should take, so that if there is one infected person at the workplace, it will not cause a large cluster, he said.

While the company may have social distancing measures at the office, Mr Wong said infection could spread among fellow workers through social interaction.

This could be in the pantry or office canteen where people are more likely to let their guard down, and employees need to be very conscious of this.

He warned: "Should a cluster form in the workplace, we may very well have to ask the employer to shut down their business operations temporarily, and then require every employee to be tested.

 
 

"This will impact the business. So it's better for the business operator to take this seriously and put in place all the necessary precautions and measures."

The authorities are also keeping an eye on transmissions due to social interactions, which have doubled from 1 per cent to 2 per cent.

"We still put in place a lot of restrictions, they are helping.

"Many of us certainly would like to see these restrictions being relaxed over time, but if we want to do that, all of us have to be responsible and vigilant," Mr Wong said.

Although the number of community cases has gone up, many of the people were already isolated as they were close contacts of a case.

Hence, there was no risk of them passing the virus to others, said Mr Wong.

Most of the new community unlinked cases were detected through routine testing, with almost three in five having no symptoms.

Half of them were in the construction sector where workers are tested regularly.

 
 

Those who had no symptoms were also tested for antibodies which would likely indicate an old, and not current, infection.

Almost half of the unlinked cases were positive for antibodies.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the group that is cause for concern are people with symptoms and are unlinked to other cases.

They reflect cases with unknown sources of infection, he said. "If this number goes up significantly, it may signal an increase in underlying community transmission."

With expanded testing to include patients as young as 13 who have acute respiratory infections, the number of Covid-19 cases will go up, he said, but it does not mean an increase in transmissions.

He said that it is "still early days yet and we should watch carefully whether there is an uptrend and, if that is so, whether the uptrend is sustained".

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 08, 2020, with the headline 'Workplace Covid-19 infections up after phase two reopening'. Subscribe