Coronavirus: No big party after June 1 - just a gradual reopening, says Gan Kim Yong

Community cases low primarily because circuit breaker ensures many stay at home

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong called on Singaporeans to remain vigilant, and not to let their guard down after June 1.
ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

While community cases have been coming down in recent days, Singapore needs to reopen carefully and slowly or chance a large spike in new cases, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said.

Mr Gan was asked at a virtual press conference by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 if the single Singaporean/permanent resident confirmed here yesterday meant Singapore has successfully "flattened the curve" for cases in the community, as the large majority of the 793 cases that the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced yesterday were foreign workers staying in dormitories.

The term refers to the n-shaped epidemic curve, used to visualise when new cases happen and at what speed during a virus outbreak.

A sharp rise in cases results in a steeply inclined curve, while a slower growth in cases spread out over a longer time period creates a moderate plateau.

This is a key goal of public health officials to prevent health systems from being overwhelmed.

While the number of Covid-19 patients being discharged has exceeded new cases in recent days, Mr Gan said it is important to bear in mind that community cases are low today primarily because of circuit breaker measures that have many staying at home.

"We have actually moved a lot of the working environment to home-based telecommuting, and we have actually stopped the bulk of the construction work in Singapore," said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the task force tackling the virus.

"As we restart the economy, as we allow more people to return to work, as we allow more activities to resume, we have to be very careful, because if we are not careful, the number of cases will spike up, and you may have big clusters forming again."

The Government expects that as circuit breaker measures are rolled back and Singapore reopens, the number of cases in the community will rise, he said.

"We hope that if we do it carefully and do it right, the number - even as it goes up - it will continue to go up slowly, and it will continue to remain under control, and we will be able to step up our contact tracing, our quarantine efforts, to minimise the risk of transmission in the community and to minimise the risk of large clusters being formed," he added.

One key test of whether Singapore succeeds in this aspect is not just the number of cases in the community, but how many of them are linked to existing clusters and how many are not, said MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak.

"It's all contingent, really, on us continuing to do our bit to not go out unnecessarily, not to mix and have too much close contact even as we start to carry out some of these (social) activities again," said Associate Professor Mak.

Echoing this, Mr Gan called on Singaporeans to remain vigilant, and not to let their guard down simply because the circuit breaker period officially ends on June 1.

Both the Government and the people have "worked very hard over the last few weeks and have maintained very tight circuit breaker measures" to keep the number of cases down, he said, as he urged Singaporeans to continue to cooperate with the authorities and support safe distancing measures so that the Republic can progressively open up with time.

"I know June 1 is approaching very quickly and there's a great expectation from among Singaporeans what will happen after June 1," he said.

"I have to say that we are not going to have a big party after June 1; it is still a very tight situation where we need to continue to impose many of the circuit breaker measures to ensure that our number of cases does not spike up, and we appeal to Singaporeans to bear with us."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: No big party after June 1 - just a gradual reopening, says Gan Kim Yong. Subscribe